Understanding Hammertoes -- the Basics

What Are Hammertoes?

A hammertoe occurs from a muscle and ligament imbalance around the toe joint which causes the middle joint of the toe to bend and become stuck in this position. The most common complaint with hammertoes is rubbing and irritation on the top of the bent toe.

Toes that may curl rather than buckle -- most commonly the baby toe -- are also considered hammertoes.

It can happen to any toe. Women are more likely to get pain associated with hammertoes than men because of shoe gear.

Hammertoes can be a serious problem in people with diabetes or poor circulation. People with these conditions should see a doctor at the first sign of foot trouble.

There are two types of hammertoes:

  • Flexible hammertoes. If the toe still can be moved at the joint, it's a flexible hammertoe. That's good, because this is an earlier, milder form of the problem. There may be several treatment options.
  • Rigid hammertoes. If the tendons in the toe become rigid, they press the joint out of alignment. At this stage, the toe can't be moved. It usually means that surgery is needed.

What Causes Hammertoes?

The muscles of each toe work in pairs. When the toe muscles get out of balance, a hammertoe can form. Muscle imbalance puts a lot of pressure on the toe's tendons and joints. This pressure forces the toe into a hammerhead shape.

How do the toe muscles get out of balance? There are three main reasons:

  • Genes: You may have inherited a tendency to develop hammertoes because your feet are somewhat unstable -- they may be flat or have a high arch.
  • Arthritis
  • Injury to the toe: Ill-fitting shoes are the main culprits. If shoes are too tight, too short, or too pointy, they push the toes out of balance. Pointy, high-heeled shoes put particularly severe pressure on the toes.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 10, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:
American Podiatric Medical Association.
American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

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