If you have a toe that’s constantly in a bent position, it could be a hammertoe. This foot problem often develops slowly, so it’s easy to ignore. However, it’s also a problem that continues to worsen over time, until you’re left with a painful, immovable joint deformity. Unfortunately, by that point, you usually have to skip conservative treatments and opt for surgery.
At Glendale Foot and Ankle Podiatry Center, Dr. Hermoz B. Ayvazian shares these insights into hammertoe and five effective treatments to find relief.
The problem with hammertoe
Hammertoe is a deformity causing the tip of your toe to turn downward in a hammerlike position. This change occurs when the middle joint of your second, third, or fourth toe bends abnormally. When left in this bent position, the muscles in your toe begin to shorten and tighten. Over time, they can become stuck, taking on the odd-looking, telltale hammer shape. While hammertoe can significantly affect the appearance of your foot, that’s the least of your worries.
Hammertoe is often painful and, combined with its abnormal shape, can be a struggle to fit into your shoes. The result? An increase in your chances of getting painful corns on top of the bent toe because it rubs against your shoe. Plus, people with hammertoe often get calluses on the ball of their foot, too, which only adds to their foot discomfort.
Several factors increase your chances of hammertoe, especially wearing high heels, narrow, or poor-fitting shoes. That’s because these footwear options force your toes into a bent position, leading to hammertoe. This also explains why hammertoe is more common in women than men.
You’re also more likely to get hammertoe if you have bunions. Bunions are another foot deformity that can push your big toe into the second, forcing it into a hammertoe position.
Finding relief for hammertoe
The good news is that Dr. Ayvazian can usually treat hammertoe with conservative therapies if you come in while your toe remains flexible. Unfortunately, hammertoe never heals on its own and can become progressively worse over time. Once your toe becomes rigid, surgery could be your only option.
Here are five ways to treat hammertoe:
1. Buy new shoes
New shoes are crucial. Look for options with a roomy toe box to comfortably accommodate your toes. It also goes without saying that you should avoid narrow or pointy toes and stick with heels two inches or fewer.
In severe hammertoe cases, Dr. Ayvazian may prescribe orthopedic shoes to ensure your comfort while properly cushioning and supporting your foot, and preventing more problems.
2. Exercise your toes
You read that right — toe exercises! Dr. Ayvazian can suggest exercises that stretch and strengthen your toe muscles. If your toe is still flexible, regular exercise can help treat the problem and keep it from worsening.
3. Try orthotic inserts
Orthotics fit inside your shoes. They work by relieving pressure on your toe, restoring muscle balance, and preventing irritation.
4. Consider taping, splinting, or padding
Dr. Ayvazian may prescribe one of several products that help straighten your toe and relieve pain. A common example of this includes splinting and taping to hold your toe in a normal position and adding padding to help cushion it.
5. When all else fails — surgery
Surgery should always be the last treatment option. But sometimes, it’s your only choice if your toe is too rigid to move, or you can’t manage your pain with better-fitting shoes, orthotics, or padding.
When your toe is still flexible, Dr. Ayvazian may be able to reroute the tendons and move the joint back into position. If your toe is rigid and immovable, joint resection and bone fusion are often the best surgical option.
Don’t wait to get treatment if you think you have hammertoe. If you have any questions, contact us at Glendale Foot and Ankle Podiatry Center.