What are hammertoes, mallet toes and claw toes? Often the words are used interchangeably to mean an abnormally contracted toe like the drawing above. Technically speaking, a "hammertoes" is the name for a toe that is contracted at the first toe joint. If it's contracted at the second toe joint it is called a "mallet toe". IIf a toe is contracted at both toe joints, it is called a "claw toe". Each of these conditions can be quite uncomfortable and are cosmetically unappealing.
Hammer toes result from a muscle imbalance which causes the ligaments and tendons to become unnaturally tight. This results in the joint curling downward. Arthritis can also lead to many different forefoot deformities, including hammer toes.
Symptoms of a hammertoe are usually first noticed as a corn on the top of the hammertoes toe or at the tip which produces pain with walking or wearing tight shoes. Most people feel a corn is due to a skin problem on their toes, which in fact, it is protecting the underlying bone deformity. A corn on the toe is sometimes referred to as a heloma dura or heloma durum, meaning hard corn. This is most common at the level of the affected joint due to continuous friction of the deformity against your shoes.
Most health care professionals can diagnose hammertoe simply by examining your toes and feet. X-rays of the feet are not needed to diagnose hammertoe, but they may be useful to look for signs of some types of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) or other disorders that can cause hammertoe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Changing the type of footwear worn is a very important step in the treatment of hammer toes. When choosing a shoe, make sure the toe box (toe area) is high and broad, and can accommodate the hammer toes. A shoe with a high, broad toe box will provide enough room in the forefoot area so that there is less friction against the toes. Other conservative treatments include using forefoot products designed to relieve hammer toes, such as hammer toe crests and hammer toe splints. These devices will help hold down the hammer toe and provide relief to the forefoot. Gel toe shields and gel toe caps are also recommended to eliminate friction between the shoe and the toe, while providing comfort and lubrication.
If conservative measures fail to provide relief, or if your hammertoe is in advanced stages with rigidity and a significant amount of pain, surgery may be required. Some patients also require surgery if they have open sores or wounds related to their hammertoe. For patients who also suffer from bunions, a combined procedure may be appropriate, addressing both conditions within the same surgery. Recovery time will vary from patient to patient, depending on the extent of the surgical repair and other conditions that may also be present.
The American Podiatric Medical Association offers the following tips for preventing foot pain. Don't ignore foot pain, it's not normal. Inspect feet regularly. Wash feet regularly, especially between the toes, and dry them completely. Trim toenails straight across, but not too short. Make sure shoes fit properly.