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Hammertoes: Straightening Those Digits

When objects that are meant to be straight end up stuck in a bent position, they can cause a lot of problems. Hinges won’t open, boxes won’t close, and forward movement may be stopped. Toes that are stuck in bent positions can cause issues, too. They make it painful to wear shoes and stay mobile. That is the problem with hammertoes.

What Are They?

Hammertoes are common deformities that arise from an imbalance in the muscles and connective tissues that control the affected toe. The middle joint of one or more of the small toes, often the one closest to the big toe, contracts and becomes stuck in that position. At first the toe will stay flexible. You’ll be able to straighten the joint with your hands. It may even relax somewhat if you wear open shoes. As the problem progresses, however, the joint will stiffen and become rigid.

This condition is uncomfortable, especially as it progresses. The bent position will make it difficult to wear many types of shoes. The joint may rub against the top of the shoe and develop blisters or corns. Sometimes the joint becomes painfully inflamed, appearing red and irritated. You may notice a burning sensation as well.

What Caused These?

The imbalance that causes the hammertoes typically happens over time. Changes in the foot mechanics may cause the supporting tissues to contract, bending the joint. This often happens because of preexisting problems, like bunions. Poorly fitted footwear may contribute to the issue as well. Toe boxes that are narrow, pointed, or too short may cramp the toes and cause the connective tissues to shorten. Trauma to your foot or nerve damage are other possible sources of the condition.

Can I Treat It Without Surgery?

For most hammertoes, the problem can be resolved using conservative methods. You’ll need to have your toes evaluated and diagnosed to rule out other conditions and identify the source of the problem to treat it properly. Dr. Paul C. LaFata and our staff at West Lawn Podiatry Associates will carefully examine your feet and help you establish a plan for recovery.

You’ll most likely need to switch your shoes . Wear styles with low heels and wide, rounded toe boxes so your toes have plenty of room to move. You may need orthotics or pads to help accommodate preexisting conditions or mechanical problems that are contributing to the issue. Pads can also help protect the bent toe from friction that causes skin damage. Most likely you’ll need physical therapy stretches and exercises to help balance out the supporting tissues. If the problem doesn’t respond to these conservative methods, you may need surgery to release the affected tendons—though this is rare.

Hammertoes are an inconvenient and uncomfortable issue, but they don’t have to prevent you from wearing normal shoes and enjoying your activities. If you’ve noticed your toes getting stuck, contact West Lawn Podiatry Associates—the Center for Foot and Ankle Care in West Lawn and Reading, PA. Call (610) 678-4581 or use the online request form to reach us for an appointment . We can help your toes straighten up!