A hammertoe can be flexible or rigid. Hammertoes often start out flexible and become rigid over time as your toe becomes accustomed to its crooked position. Flexible hammertoes are less serious than rigid hammertoes, as they can be easily diagnosed and treated in their initial stages. Flexible hammertoes are named as such because your affected toe still possesses some degree of movement.
Hammer toe usually affects the second toe. However, it may also affect the other toes. The toe moves into a claw-like position. The most common cause of hammer toe is wearing short, narrow shoes that are too tight. The toe is forced into a bent position. Muscles and tendons in the toe tighten and become shorter. Hammer toe is more likely to occur in women who wear shoes that do not fit well or have high heels and children who keep wearing shoes they have outgrown. The condition may be present at birth (congenital) or develop over time. In rare cases, all of the toes are affected. This may be caused by a problem with the nerves or spinal cord.
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to hammer toe. Talk to your doctor about symptoms such as a toe that curls down, corns on the top of a toe, calluses on the sole of the foot or bottom of the toe, pain in the middle joint of a toe, discomfort on the top of a toe, difficulty finding any shoes that fit comfortably, cramping in a toe, and sometimes also the foot and leg, difficult or painful motion of a toe joint, pain in the ball of the foot or at the base of a toe.
Your healthcare provider will examine your foot, checking for redness, swelling, corns, and calluses. Your provider will also measure the flexibility of your toes and test how much feeling you have in your toes. You may have blood tests to check for arthritis, diabetes, and infection.
Non Surgical Treatment
In the early stages, the deformities from mallet toe, claw toe and hammertoe can be corrected. But if treatment is delayed too long, permanent stiffness can ensue which can only be corrected by surgery. The most effective treatment options are good fitting footwear. Shoes with a wide toebox will be more comfortable and will reduce the tension on the muscles and friction on the toes. Avoid high heels as they push your feet forwards to the front of the shoes. This increases the pressure on the toes, forcing them to bend more than usual. Shoes should ideally be half an inch longer than your longest toe. Exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles can be really helpful. Simple things like trying to pick marbles up with your feet or scrunching up a towel underneath your foot can work well.
If your hammer, claw, or mallet toe gets worse, or if nonsurgical treatment does not help your pain, you may think about surgery. The type of surgery you choose depends on how severe your condition is and whether the toe joint is fixed (has no movement) or flexible (has some movement). A fixed toe joint often requires surgery to be straightened. A flexible toe joint can sometimes be straightened without surgery. Surgery choices include Phalangeal head resection (arthroplasty), in which the surgeon removes part of the toe bone. Joint fusion (arthrodesis), in which the hammertoes surgeon removes part of the joint, letting the toe bones grow together (fuse). Cutting supporting tissue or moving tendons in the toe joint. How well surgery works depends on what type of surgery you have, how experienced your surgeon is, and how badly your toes are affected.