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Understanding Hammertoes -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have Hammertoes?

A thorough medical exam will tell whether you have a hammertoe. Usually, an X-ray is part of this exam to assess the extent of the deformity.  

A hammertoe occurs from a muscle and ligament imbalance around the toe joint that causes the middle toe joint to bend and become stuck in this position.

Understanding Hammertoes

Find out more about hammertoes:

Basics

Symptoms

Diagnosis and Treatment

Prevention

 

The most common complaint with hammertoes is rubbing and irritation on the top of the bent toe.

What Are the Treatments for Hammertoes?

You should see a doctor if you have a hammertoe. In the meantime, there are steps you can take to relieve the pain and discomfort:

  • Wear only shoes that are high and broad across the toes, called a wide toe-box shoe. There should be at least one-half inch of space between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe. Keep in mind that this could be either a big toe or second toe.
  • Don't wear heels higher than 2 inches. 
  • Wear the appropriate shoe for the activity you are doing.
  • You can buy non-medicated hammertoe pads. They fit around the pointy top of the toe joint and help relieve painful pressure. Some brands have a gel lining that can prevent irritation of the toe by the shoe.
  • Gently massaging the toe may help relieve pain.
  • Put ice packs on the hammertoe to reduce painful swelling.

There are several treatment options that vary according to how severe the hammertoe: 

  • Wear good-fitting shoes; this does not necessarily mean expensive shoes. Padding any prominent areas around the bony point of the toe may help to relieve pain.
  • Drugs that reduce inflammation can ease the pain and swelling. Sometimes, a doctor will use cortisone injections to relieve acute pain.
  • An orthotist or qualified medical provider such as a podiatrist may also custom-make an insert to wear inside your shoe. This can reduce pain and keep the hammertoe from getting worse.
  • Over-the-counter metatarsal pads that are properly placed may help.
  • The doctor may recommend foot exercises to help restore muscle balance. Splinting the toe may help in the very early stages.
  • When the hammertoes are not resolved with the above methods, surgery may be needed. Often this can be done in a surgery center without the need for hospitalization. There are several surgical techniques used to treat hammertoes.
  • When the problem is less severe, the doctor will remove a small piece of bone at the involved joint and realign the toe joint. More severe hammertoes may mean more complicated surgery.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on April 28, 2014

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