A hammer toe can be defined as a condition that causes your toe to bend downward instead of pointing forward. While it can occur on any toe on your foot, it usually affects the second or third toe. If your baby toe curls instead of buckling, it is also considered a hammer toe. There are two types of hammer toes. If your toes still can move around at the joint, then it is considered a flexible hammer toe. It is a milder form of the condition and there are more treatment options. The other type is called a rigid Hammer toes, which occurs when the tendons in your toe become so rigid that they push your toe joint out of alignment, and it cannot move at all. Typically, you will need surgery to fix it.
Hammertoes are a contracture of the toes as a result of a muscle imbalance between the tendons on the top of the toes (extensor tendons) and the tendons on the bottom of the toes (flexor tendons). If there is an imbalance in the foot muscles that stabilize the toe, the smaller muscles can be overpowered by the larger flexor and extensor muscles.
For some people, a hammer toe is nothing more than an unsightly deformity that detracts from the appearance of the foot. However, discomfort may develop if a corn or callus develops on the end or top of the toe. If pressure and friction continue on the end or top of the toe, a painful ulcer may develop. Discomfort or pain can lead to difficulty walking.
The earlier a hammertoe is diagnosed, the better the prognosis and treatment options. Your doctor will be able to diagnose your hammertoe with a simple examination of the foot and your footwear. He or she may take an x-ray to check the severity of the condition. You may also be asked about your symptoms, your normal daily activities, and your medical and family history.
Non Surgical Treatment
Any forefoot problems that cause pain or discomfort should be given prompt attention. Ignoring the symptoms can aggravate the condition and lead to a breakdown of tissue, or possibly even infection. Conservative treatment of mallet toes begins with accommodating the deformity. The goal is to relieve pressure, reduce friction, and transfer forces from the sensitive areas. Shoes with a high and broad toe box (toe area) are recommended for people suffering from forefoot deformities such as mallet toes. This prevents further irritation in the toe area from developing. Other conservative treatment includes forefoot supports such as gel toe caps, gel toe shields and toe crests. Gel forefoot supports provide immediate comfort and relief from common forefoot disorders without drying the skin.
Surgery is the approach that is often necessary to correct hammertoe that fails to respond to nonsurgical management. Surgery is appropriate when the muscles and tendons involved in a hammertoe problem have become so tight that the joints are rigid, misaligned and unmovable. There are a number of surgical techniques for dealing with the complex range of joint, bone, muscle, tendon and ligament abnormalities that define each hammertoe's make-up. To correct a hammertoe deformity, the surgeon's goal is to restore the normal alignment of the toe joint, relieving the pressure that led to the hammertoe's development (this should also relieve the pain, as well). To do this, he or she may remove part of the boney structure that creates a prominence at the top of the joint. Tighten or loosen the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the toe joints. Realign the toe bones by cutting one or more and shifting their position, realigning muscles, tendons and ligaments accordingly. Use screws, wires or plates to hold the joint surfaces together until they heal. Reconstruct a badly damaged joint or replace it with an artificial implant.
A bunion is an often painful enlargement of bone or tissue around the joint at the base of the big toe. If you have a bunion, you will notice a bump on your big toe joint. The big toe may turn in toward the second toe and the tissues surrounding the joint may be swollen and tender. Bunions can come from a variety of causes, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or foot mechanics that place too much load on the ball of your foot. If untreated, bunions can worsen, leading to other serious complications, and even potentially require surgery. Early treatment is best, so if you?re suffering from bunions it?s smart to see a podiatrist for proper treatment and care.
While there isn?t really one exact cause of bunions, podiatric physicians tend to agree that a bunion is formed when the normal mechanics of the foot are disrupted. This can happen in any number of ways. Abnormality in foot function or foot mechanics. In general, this means a pronated foot (one with an excessive rolling to the outside when the patient is walking, running or doing any kind of activity), a flat foot or low-arched foot. This is probably the most common cause, and it?s where the idea of heredity comes into play. Foot mechanics, and problems with them, tend to run in families. The good news is that there are orthoses and corrective shoes that can effectively alleviate these and other disturbances to foot mechanics, before they contribute to bunions. A podiatric physician can prescribe the best corrective footwear and shoe inserts for all activities, work, exercise, play, walking, shopping and more, based on an analysis of the patient?s foot and his or her lifestyle.
Bunions are an often painful condition that may become even more painful as extra bone and a fluid-filled sac grow at the base of your big toe. Some of the most frequently experienced signs and symptoms associated with bunions, besides pain, include redness in your affected area. Blistering over your bunion. Callus formation around your bunion. Bursitis. Nerve damage (numbness and/or sharp pains) in your involved area. Bunions may also cause pain within and below your first metatarsophalangeal, or MTP, joint. Your bunion may become further dislocated and unstable as it progresses and may overload your adjacent joints.
Physical examination typically reveals a prominence on the inside (medial) aspect of the forefoot. This represents the bony prominence associated with the great toe joint ( the medial aspect of the first metatarsal head). The great toe is deviated to the outside (laterally) and often rotated slightly. This produces uncovering of the joint at the base of the big toe (first metatarsophalangeal joint subluxation). In mild and moderate bunions, this joint may be repositioned back to a neutral position (reduced) on physical examination. With increased deformity or arthritic changes in the first MTP joint, this joint cannot be fully reduced. Patients may also have a callus at the base of their second toe under their second metatarsal head in the sole of the forefoot. Bunions are often associated with a long second toe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Sometimes observation of the bunion is all that?s needed. To reduce the chance of damage to the joint, periodic evaluation and x-rays by your surgeon are advised. In many other cases, however, some type of treatment is needed. Early treatments are aimed at easing the pain of bunions, but they won?t reverse the deformity itself. These include changes in shoewear. Wearing the right kind of shoes is very important. Choose shoes that have a wide toe box and forgo those with pointed toes or high heels which may aggravate the condition. Padding. Pads placed over the area of the bunion can help minimize pain. These can be obtained from your surgeon or purchased at a drug store. Activity modifications. Avoid activity that causes bunion pain, including standing for long periods of time. Medications. Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation. Icing. Applying an ice pack several times a day helps reduce inflammation and pain. Injection therapy. Although rarely used in bunion treatment, injections of corticosteroids may be useful in treating the inflamed bursa (fluid-filled sac located around a joint) sometimes seen with bunions. Orthotic devices. In some cases, custom orthotic devices may be provided by the foot and ankle surgeon.
The type of surgical procedure performed depends upon the severity of the bunion, the individual?s age, general health, activity level, and the condition of the bones and connective tissue. Other factors may influence the choice of a procedure used. Mild bunion. For this type of surgery, the surgeon may remove the enlarged portion of bone and realign the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the joint. Moderate bunion. For a moderate bunion, the surgeon may cut the bone and shift it to its proper position. Whether or not the bone is cut depends on the severity and location of the deformity. In addition, the surrounding tendons and ligaments may need to be repositioned. Severe bunion. For a severe bunion, surgery may involve removing the enlarged portion of the bone, cutting and realigning the bone, and correcting the position of the tendons and ligaments. Arthritic bunion or big toe joint. If the joint is damaged beyond repair, as is commonly seen in arthritis, it may need to be reconstructed or replaced with an artificial joint. Joint replacement implants may be used in the reconstruction of the big toe joint.