Hammertoe: What Causes It, How To Prevent It, And Why Early Treatment Is Important

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Hammertoe refers to a condition where one or more toes are permanently bent at their first joint — this causes them to form the shape of a sharp arch. It's caused when the muscle in the toe weakens and can no longer keep the toe flat by resisting the pull of the connecting ligament. It can affect people of any age and is more common in women than men. While usually not painful on its own, hammertoe can cause the toe to chafe against the top of your shoes, leading to the formation of painful, irritating corns. Here's what you need to know about what causes hammertoe and how it's treated.

What Causes Hammertoe to Develop?

The shape of your foot, which is determined partly by genetics, influences your risk of developing hammertoe. People who have flat arches are more susceptible to developing it. This means that hammertoe tends to run in families. It can also be caused by wearing shoes that are too small or that don't have proper arch support — wearing high heels, in particular, sometimes leads to the development of hammertoe. Diabetes and arthritis can also lead to weakened muscle that causes hammertoe, since the foot pain they cause can interfere with your ability to walk in a normal gait.

How Can You Help Prevent Hammertoe?

Avoid wearing high heels or shoes that fit too tightly. You should also select shoes that have a large toe box in order to give your toe enough room to lay flat while walking.

How Does a Podiatrist Treat Hammertoe?

The treatment options available for hammertoe depends on its severity. If your toe joint is still flexible, a podiatrist may recommend custom orthotic inserts that give your shoes more arch support, which helps your toe to lay flat and prevents hammertoe from progressing. You may also be asked to switch what types of shoes you wear. Another option is to use medical tape to force your toe into the correct position, which stops it from chafing against the top of your shoe and helps you exercise the muscle that connects to the first joint.

Severe cases of hammertoe prevent your toe from lying flat at all — it's impossible to move your toe into a normal position because the joints of your toe have become misaligned. In this case, surgery is the only option. Hammertoe surgery is an outpatient surgery that removes a portion of your toe bone, putting the joint back into alignment and allowing it to move again.

If you notice that one or more of your toes are curling up and beginning to form an arch, it's important to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist as soon as possible. Hammertoe is often progressive — unless you correct the underlying cause of your hammertoe, the degree of abnormal flexion will likely worsen until the toe joints are pulled out of alignment, leading to a severe case of hammertoe that requires surgery to correct. By visiting a podiatrist and correcting your hammertoe while your toe can still lay flat, you'll reduce the risk of requiring surgery.

For more information contact a local food clinic like Collier Podiatry PA