A Hammer toes is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toe in which the toe becomes bent at the middle joint; hence, it resembles a hammer. Claw toe and mallet toe are related conditions. While a hammer toe is contracted at the first toe joint, a mallet toe is contracted at the second toe joint, and a claw toe is contracted at both joints. According to the 2012 National Foot Health Assessment conducted by the NPD Group for the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, 3 percent of U.S. adults age 21 and hammertoe older (about 7 million people) have experienced hammer toe or claw toe. The condition is significantly more prevalent in females than in males.
Wearing ill-fitting shoes is probably the main cause of hammer toe. As the toe bends, tendons add to the problem by contracting in such a way that the bending is reinforced to the point of becoming permanent. In some cases, tendons that are abnormal to begin with may start the bending process.
A hammertoe may be present but not always painful unless irritated by shoes. One may have enlarged toe joints with some thickened skin and no redness or swelling. However, if shoes create pressure on the joint, the pain will usually range from pinching and squeezing to sharp and burning. In long standing conditions, the dislocated joints can cause the pain of arthritis.
Most health care professionals can diagnose hammertoe simply by examining your toes and feet. X-rays of the feet are not needed to diagnose hammertoe, but they may be useful to look for signs of some types of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) or other disorders that can cause hammertoe.
Non Surgical Treatment
A person with hammer toes will be asked to practice some exercises for their toes to regain average structure and movement. The exercises usually involve stretching and strengthening their toes. The person may attempt to pick things up off the floor using only their toes. They may also stretch their toes on a regular basis by hand to ease them into straightening out. Another example of a physical exercise specifically for a person's toes involves crumpling a towel with the toes. The towel can lie underneath the person's feet and the person can use their toes to scrunch up the towel as they perform simple tasks such as reading a book or watching television.
Bone-mending procedures realign the contracted toe by removing the entire deviated small joints of the toe (again, not at the ball of the foot). This allows for the buckled joint to be positioned flat and the bone ends to mend together. Often surgical hardware (fixation) is necessary to keep the bones steady during healing. Hardware options can involve a buried implant inside the toe, or a temporary wire that is removed at a later date. Medical terminology for this procedure is called a proximal interphalangeal joint arthrodesis (fusion), or a distal interphalangeal joint arthrodesis (fusion), with the former being performed in a high majority of cases.