More Than A Crooked Toe

Normal toes are meant to be straight, with bones and tendons allowing the toes to flex easily. However, if toes look bent out of shape, even at rest, this could be a sign of a hammer toe. A hammer toe is an abnormal bending of one or more joints in the toe. Hammer toes can happen to all the toes but are more prevalent in the 2nd to 5th toes. Most cases are mild. That’s why rough estimates believe about 20% of Americans have some form of the condition. However, if left untreated, a hammer toe can get progressively worse.

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Causes of the claw

Each toe has two joints that allow the digit to bend. The toes also have tendons responsible for flexibility. If these tendons are tight or damaged, the joints bend downward, almost resembling claws. There are several reasons for hammer toes. Injury, arthritis, or wearing ill-fitting shoes are some of the leading causes. Women are more likely to experience the condition due to wearing pointed or high-arching shoes.

Risk factors

Hammer toes can also be linked to tight and weak calf muscles. Tight calves cause tendons at the top of the foot to get tighter. This pulls the more vulnerable toe tendons upward. Similar foot deformities like bunions can also increase the chances of developing hammer toes. Other risk factors include genetics, nerve issues, neuromuscular diseases, strokes, or damaged ligaments.

Experiencing these symptoms?

Hammer toes cause painful calluses at the top of the toes, mainly from rubbing on the top of shoes. Persons may also feel pain at the tip of the toe. Putting on shoes becomes painful since the toe is now out of place. Over time, the toenails will look deformed. Some persons may even feel pain on the ball of the foot.

Getting toes back to normal

Getting rid of a hammer toe is possible. The degree of effort and treatment depends on how soon treatment starts. In most cases, simple exercises can restore flexibility. Doctors may also prescribe straps, tapes, pads, and recommend spacers for shoes. Wearing wider shoes and restricting high heels can help relieve pressure and pain. While these steps are useful, many cases need hammer toe correction surgery.

Correcting the issue with surgery

The surgeon will approach correction surgery from two angles. First, the orthopedic surgeon will check if the patient can extend the toes without help. If this is possible, the patient will receive tendon transfer surgery. The surgeon will make an incision at the top of the affected toe. The surgeon will use tools to grab and stretch the affected tendon across the joint. The toe will straighten, and this will give the patient long-term relief and flexibility. This is an outpatient procedure with a high success rate.

Turning to fusion

If the toes can’t be extended, the joint can no longer move. To fix the deformity, the doctor will perform a joint resection or a fusion surgery. For a joint resection, the surgeon will remove pieces of tissue and tendon to relieve the surrounding pressure. In some cases, the joint gets removed completely. Using pins to keep the bones in place, the adjacent bones will grow and fuse. In both cases, the surgeon will insert more pins through the tips of the toes to keep the bone in place. The doctor removes the pins once the surgery bones fuse. With one less joint, the toe will not bend naturally. However, the surgery is very effective in treating the pain and straightening the toe.

Fixing hammer toes start with you

There is hope for persons with a hammer toe. The condition causes pain and discomfort. A hammer toe can also be emotionally draining from a cosmetic sense. The key is to identify the issue early. From there, start with the proper footwear, exercise, and support. If there is no improvement, speak with a doctor about hammer toe correction surgery. Eligible patients will be able to have functioning toes again.

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