Hammertoes: Tightening Too Far

Door springs ensure that a door swings shut while still allowing it to be used as needed. The spring stretches when the door opens and pulls it back into the resting position afterward. Your body has tissues that do something similar: they move limbs and make sure they return to their normal resting position. If they become too tightened, however, instead of bringing your limbs back to a normal alignment, those tissues can painfully contract them into an abnormal position. This is what happens with hammertoes.

The Deformity

Hammertoes are deformities of the smaller digits. They happen when the middle joint of these toes bend and fix in a wrong position due to imbalanced tissues in your foot. Usually, these pairs of muscles and tendons move the affected toe, hold it in the correct position, and pull in opposite directions. If one becomes tightened and the other isn’t strong enough to balance it out, the toe will bend.

The problem starts out fairly flexible—you can still straighten the toe with your hands. As the problem worsens, however, your joint will stiffen until the digit becomes rigid. Flexible hammertoes can be treated with conservative therapies to relieve the pressure on the toe. Rigid ones, however, are stuck in that position, and may become permanent if not treated.

A variety of problems cause the toes to become imbalanced. The most common problem is too-tight footwear. When your shoes cramp your toes, your toes are forced into a flexed position that encourages your muscles and tendons to tighten on one side. However, the problem can be a complication of underlying issues or the result of an injury. Painful problems like bunions can strain the forefoot and cause tissue imbalances. Nerve damage can send faulty information to the feet and cause a toe to tighten. Jamming or breaking your digits can damage other structures in your foot as well.

Having a toe stuck in a bent position can be uncomfortable in its own right, but the condition has other symptoms. The crooked digit usually rubs against your footwear, irritating your skin and causing problems like corns and calluses. Your toe may be inflamed, especially around any skin build-up. You may feel a painful burning sensation as well. If you have a condition like diabetes that weakens your immune system, you also risk developing sores.

The Remedy

Catching the problem early, though, gives you a much higher chance of being able to address your discomfort conservatively because the problem worsens over time unless it’s treated. Our excellent team here at NorthPointe Foot & Ankle will evaluate your feet, determine the underlying causes and the severity of your condition, and start your treatment.

You’ll need to make adjustments to your footwear to make sure your toes have plenty of room to stretch out and flatten when they need to. Avoid shoes with short, narrow, or pointed toe boxes. You may still need orthotics to relieve the pressure on the forefoot or correct a pre-existing condition that caused the tissue imbalance. Some stretches and exercises to relax and strengthen your toe muscles and tendons can help combat the imbalance in your foot. You may need to splint or strap the bent digit to try to keep it in the correct position. Padding your toes will help relieve discomfort from corns and calluses. Only rarely does surgery become necessary. It’s reserved for digits painfully fixed in the bent position that aren’t responding to regular treatments.

Hammertoes are uncomfortable and can make it very difficult to wear shoes and to spend extended periods of time on your feet. Fortunately, you don’t have to be resigned to a permanent toe deformity. Catching and treating the problem early allows us to work with you to restore your foot using noninvasive measures. Don’t wait until you can hardly wear shoes any more to seek help for the discomfort. Contact NorthPointe Foot & Ankle here in Berkley, MI, for more information or an appointment to take care of your toes. Call (248) 545-0100 or use our website’s request form to reach us. ;