I. Definition: A hammertoe is a deformity that occurs most often in the second, third, or fourth toe. In this condition, the tendons of the affected toe are tightened, causing the middle joint of the toe to curl downward in a hammer-like position. Toes may stiffen in this position, causing permanent discomfort. Corns and calluses may form on the top of the affected toe due to pressure from footwear.
II. Cause: Hammertoes are often caused by poorly fitted shoes. Tight and narrow-toed shoes can force the toes into a bent position. If the toes are held in that position, the ligaments and tendons can become unnaturally tight, resulting in a hammertoe. Arthritis is also a known cause of hammertoes.
III. Treatment and Prevention: Treatment for hammertoe begins with proper footwear. Shoes should have soft, roomy toe boxes with enough room to allow you to curl your toes under. Avoid wearing tight, narrow-toed shoes. Cushions and donut-shaped pads may be used to alleviate join pressure and pain from corns that may have formed. Special toe exercises and stretches may also bring some relief. Seek medical advice from an orthopaedic specialist if a hammertoe causes pain or is progressively worsening over time. Hammertoes may be corrected by surgery, but it is reserved for cases where the hammertoe is painful, the condition is progressively worsening, and the non-surgical techniques fail to correct the deformity. The surgery often involves shortening of the bone controlled by the tightened tendon. In most cases, it can be done on an outpatient basis, with no hospital stay.