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Hammer ToeOverview

Hammer toe is caused when the middle joint (PIP) bends down towards the floor (flexion). To compensate, the joints above and below (MTP, DIP) bend up (hyperextend). The result is that the middle part of the toe lifts up. Hammertoe is the most common deformity of the lesser toes (i.e. not the big toe). It tends to only affect one toe, most commonly the second.

Causes

Though hammer toes are principally hereditary, several other factors can contribute to the deformity. Most prevalent is an imbalance of the muscles and tendons that control the motion of the toe. When the tendon that pulls the toe upward is not as strong as the one that pulls it downward there is a disparity of power. This forces the toe to buckle and gradually become deformed. If the it persists, the toe can become rigid and harder to correct.

HammertoeSymptoms

Common reasons patients seek treatment for toe problems are toe pain on the knuckle. Thick toe calluses. Interference with walking/activities. Difficulty fitting shoes. Worsening toe deformity. Pain at the ball of the foot. Unsightly appearance. Toe deformities (contractures) come in varying degrees of severity, from slight to severe. The can be present in conjunction with a bunion, and develop onto a severe disfiguring foot deformity. Advanced cases, the toe can dislocate on top of the foot. Depending on your overall health, symptoms and severity of the hammer toe, the condition may be treated conservatively and/or with surgery.

Diagnosis

First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the hammertoe problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treating hammertoe involves straightening the toe, making tendons in the toes flexible again, and preventing the problem from returning. Some simple treatments include splinting the toe to keep it straight and to stretch the tendons of the foot. Using over-the-counter pads, cushions or straps to decrease discomfort Exercising the toes to relax the foot tendons (a session with a physical therapist may help you get started with foot exercises) Wearing shoes that fit properly and allow toes plenty of room to stretch out.

Surgical Treatment

The technique the surgeon applies during the surgery depends on how much flexibility the person’s affected toes still retain. If some flexibility has still been preserved in their affected toes, the hammer toes might be corrected through making a small incision into the toe so the surgeon can manipulate the tendon that is forcing the person’s toes into a curved position. If, however, the person’s toes have become completely rigid, the surgeon might have to do more than re-aligning the person’s tendons. Some pieces of bone may have to be removed so the person’s toe has the ability to straighten out. If this is the case, some pins are attached onto the person’s foot afterwards to fix their bones into place while the injured tissue heals.

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