What is it?
Hammer toes are a common deformity that most often affect the second, third or fourth toes. The middle toe joint is excessively flexed, resulting in a bent toe.
Claw toes are similar but where both toe joints are flexed, curling the toe around further. A mallet toe is where the end joint of the toe is flexed. All these conditions have similar causes and result in the same outcome- painful toes and feet!
What causes it?
Hammer toes (and claw/mallet toes) is caused by a muscle imbalance in the foot. The small foot muscles and long tendons work together to flex and straighten toes. Several risk factors are involved in increasing the load and shortening these muscles, causing them to function improperly and result in toe deformity.
- Shoes- high heeled or narrow toed shoes place the toes in a harmful flexed position. Repeated use of improper footwear can force the toes into the wrong position long term.
- Injuries- joint injury such as dislocation or fracture can increase the risk of toe deformity
- Age- as we age, joints often wear out and risk increases
- Length of toes- having longer second toes are more likely to lead to hammer toes
- Disease- arthritis, stroke, or diabetes can lead to muscle or nerve damage in the toes
- Family history- if there is a history of hammer toes in the family this increases your own risk
What problems does it cause?
Hammer toes are not generally painful by themselves (unless co-existing with joint disease/damage such as osteoarthritis/rheumatoid arthritis) but they often lead to painful outcomes. Due to the altered shape/position of the toes, pressure from footwear or activity can lead to painful corns, ingrown toenails or sores that can be difficult to heal.
What can be done about it?
Depending on whether there is enough flexibility in the toe, strengthening or stretching exercises can be prescribed by your podiatrist.
Our podiatrists are also able to construct customised shoe inserts or silicone toe devices to reduce the pressure on your toes. Advice can also be given regarding the best footwear for your needs and foot type. If there are any painful corns or callouses, we are also experienced in their treatment and removal.
If symptoms are not able to be managed conservatively, surgery is an option and we can recommend specialised foot surgeons who can undertake this.