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Hammer or Contracted Toes: Symptoms, Prevention and Surgery Information

  • Published: 2014-07-02 : Author: Disabled World : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Information regarding hammer toes also referred to as contracted toes a deformity of the 2nd 3rd and 4th toe when bent at the joints.

Quote: "Symptoms of hammer toe might be helped through corn pads or cushions to alleviate them."

Main Document

The term, 'hammer toes,' is used to describe the collective physical deformity of the second, third and fourth toe on a person's foot when they are permanently bent at one or two of their joints, often times at their middle joints or, 'proximal interphalangeal,' joints. The condition is also referred to as, 'contracted toes,' and earned its name for the resulting bowed appearance of the toes that made them appear similar to hammers. The distortion of the usual contour of the person's toes is usually a result of wearing shoes that are too short or narrow and apply consistent pressure to the toes, forcing them to be pushed together and lie obliquely. The situation is particularly true in the case of shoes that are designed to narrow towards the toe box.

Most frequently results from wearing poorly fitting shoes that can force the toe into a bent position, such as excessively high heels or shoes that are too short or narrow for the foot. In many cases, conservative treatment consisting of physical therapy or chiropractic treatment and new shoes with soft, spacious toe boxes is enough to resolve the condition, while in more severe or longstanding cases podiatric surgery may be necessary to correct the deformity.

Hammer toes may be easily detected through observation. The malformation of the person's toes begin as mild distortions, yet may worsen over time - especially if the factors causing the hammer toes are not eased or removed. If the condition is paid attention to early enough, the person's toes may not be permanently damaged and may be treated without having to receive surgical intervention. If the person's toes remain untreated for too long; however, the muscles within the toes might stiffen even more and will require invasive procedures to correct the deformity.

Causes of Hammer Toes

More often than not, wearing shoes that do not fit a person well for too long may actually cause hammer toes. Wearing shoes that are too narrow or too tight for the person for extended periods of time may eventually take a toll on the person's feet. The same is true for women who like wearing high-heeled shoes with narrow toe boxes.

Chart showing causes of hammer toes
About This Image: Chart showing causes of hammer toes
The constant pressure a woman's foot receives in high-heeled shoes due to the force of gravity causes their feet to naturally slide down and press on the lowest point of the shoe so they are not able to receive enough space and stretch out. The result is an eventual distortion of the woman's toes. The deformity comes as a result of the shortening of muscles inside the toes because the toes become used to being in a bent position, prompting the muscles to fail to extend any further and become tightened and curbed. At first, toes may still be stretched out if poor footwear is not being worn, yet if the habit is persistent...the person's toes will eventually become used to the position they are constantly in and muscle fibers inside them will harden and refuse to stretch.

The incorrect position of the person's toes inside of their shoes also causes the formation of calluses or corns on the surfaces of their toes which are constantly bent as they are wearing inappropriate shoes because the surfaces are consistently rubbing against the hard materials of the interior of the shoes causing regular friction.

Hammer toe may also be caused by other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or stroke because these forms of illnesses involve affectation of the person's muscles and nerves. Diabetes is also a causative factor for hammer toes due to diabetic neuropathy, which often times accompanies advanced instances of diabetes. Injury to a person's toes may also cause hammer toes, particularly if the injury involves breaking of the toes. In some instances, hammer toes may be hereditary. Some people may be genetically predisposed to develop the condition because of the natural structure of their bodies.

Chart showing treatments for hammer toes
About This Image: Chart showing treatments for hammer toes
Treatment of Hammer Toes

Hammer toes may be effectively corrected in different ways. Treatments can be non-invasive and involve physical therapy along with the advice that the person not wear any more shoes that restrict appropriate space for their toes. Appropriate shoes for people who want to avoid hammer toes, or for people who already have them, should be at least half an inch longer than the person's longest toe. High-heeled shoes are something to definitely avoid.

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.

Symptoms of hammer toe might be helped through corn pads or cushions to alleviate them. If the person's hammer toes were caused by an underlying disease, the person should ask for their doctor's advice prior to performing any exercises without consent.

It is also important for a person with hammer toes to remember that they must not attempt to treat or remove corns by themselves. If open cuts result from attempts to remove them, an infection becomes a very real possibility. People who experience diabetes or conditions that lead to poor circulation in their feet need to be especially careful.

Surgery and Hammer Toes

If a person's toes have become very inflexible and unresponsive to non-invasive means of treatment and if open sores have developed as a result of constant friction, they may receive orthopaedic surgery to correct the deformity. The operation is quick and is commonly performed as an out-patient procedure. The doctor administers a local anesthetic into the person's foot to numb the site of the operation. The person may remain conscious as the surgeon performs the procedure. A sedative might also be administered to help calm the person if they are too anxious.

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.

Following the surgical procedure, the person might have to deal with some stiffness and swelling as they pursue their recovery process. The person should also expect the toes that have been corrected to appear different following the surgery. For example; the person's toes may appear longer or shorter than they were before. The person will be advised not to pursue too much physical activity that involves their feet for some time to give their injury from surgery enough time to heal properly.

Preventing Hammer Toes

Some different things you can do to help prevent hammer toes from forming and progressing do exist. You can wear supportive shoes to help prevent deformities. Hammer toes are often times related to poor foot mechanics, particularly foot flattening. You can wear custom orthotics prescribed by a podiatrist; orthotics might prevent or slow the progression of hammer toes. You can also avoid shoes with narrow or pointed toe boxes that can compress your toes.

Resources and Citations:

Hammertoe and mallet toe
www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hammertoe-and-mallet-toe/basics/definition/CON-20019378

Hammertoe
www.foothealthfacts.org/footankleinfo/hammertoes.htm

Hammer Toe
www.healthline.com/health/hammer-toe

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