Do you know someone who has hammertoe? The odds of this may be higher than you think. According to a foot health assessment conducted by the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, about 3% of American adults have experienced some form of hammertoe -- that’s about seven million people.
While it may have a name that conjures up something like a three stooges skit more than a medical condition, hammertoe can become serious if left untreated. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to end your pain. Luckily, there are many ways to prevent or avoid hammertoe and keep your feet happy.
Do one or more of your toes always feel flexed or bent? If so, come see the team at PMC Foot and Ankle Clinic in Spring, Texas. We offer a full suite of podiatric services and work with you to create a custom plan to treat whatever ails your feet. In this blog, Eric Blanson, DPM, discusses the basics of hammertoe, causes, symptoms, and how to avoid this painful condition.
What is hammertoe?
With the exception of your thumb toe, or big toe, each toe in your foot has three joints. When a person has a hammertoe, they have a bending deformity in the second joint of their toe, which almost always occurs in the second, third, or fourth toe. Hammertoe can occur in multiple toes on the same foot.
Hammertoe is a visually descriptive name — the irregular bend of your toe causes it to look like a hammer. Deformity of your third toe joint is called mallet toe, and claw toe can impact any of your toe joints. Each of these names also reflects its shape.
Hammertoe has some genetic elements, but most cases are not inherited. Instead, common causes include:
- Muscle or tendon imbalance
- Ill-fitting shoes
- Traumatic toe injury
- An unusually high arch
- Pressure from a bunion
- Tight foot ligaments or tendons
- Older age
- Second toes longer than thumb toes
Diabetes and arthritis may make you more prone to developing hammertoe. Women are more likely to develop hammertoes due to high heels — shoes that are too narrow and offer little arch support are a recipe for the condition.
The most common symptom of hammertoe is discomfort when walking. In the early stages of hammertoe, you may also experience pain and discomfort when stretching or moving your toes. Other symptoms include:
- A toe that bends downward
- Difficulty walking
- Inability to flex foot or wiggle toes
- Inflammation and redness
- Burning sensation
In severe cases of hammertoe, open sores may form. Some symptoms, like corns, are caused by friction between the foot and shoe.
The most common treatment for mild hammertoe symptoms is wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes. So, it makes sense that the best way to avoid hammertoe is to wear roomy shoes with wide toe boxes; your toes should have a half inch of room up front.
If you need to wear heels, give yourself a foot massage or exchange foot massages with a loved one afterwards. When it comes to buying shoes, always shop at the end of the day, when your feet are larger.
Try on shoes with the socks you will be wearing them with. Shoes that you plan to wear with athletic socks will feel looser if you try them on with thin, business-style socks. Also, practice good foot care and come in to see Dr. Blanson if you feel like something isn’t right.
To learn more about protecting your feet, and to request other podiatric services, call PMC Foot and Ankle Clinic in Spring, Texas, or book a visit using our online system today.