Hammer, mallet, and claw toes have distinctive differences that can assist you in determining what kind of toe problem you are dealing with. All three conditions deal with toes that are curved into abnormal positions, which possibly look strange and may cause pain. Typically, the big toe is not affected by these problems. A hammertoe tends to bend downward at the center of a toe joint. It generally affects your second toe. The affliction causes the center of your toe to rise and is often accompanied with a bony lump.
Hammertoes are a contracture of the toes as a result of a muscle imbalance between the tendons on the top of the toes (extensor tendons) and the tendons on the bottom of the toes (flexor tendons). If there is an imbalance in the foot muscles that stabilize the toe, the smaller muscles can be overpowered by the larger flexor and extensor muscles.
The most obvious symptom of hammertoe is the bent, hammer-like or claw-like appearance of one or more of your toes. Typically, the proximal joint of a toe will be bending upward and the distal joint will be bending downward. In some cases, both joints may bend downward, causing the toes to curl under the foot. In the variation of mallet toe, only the distal joint bends downward. Other symptoms may include Pain and stiffness during movement of the toe, Painful corns on the tops of the toe or toes from rubbing against the top of the shoe’s toe box, Painful calluses on the bottoms of the toe or toes, Pain on the bottom of the ball of the foot, Redness and swelling at the joints. If you have any of these symptoms, especially the hammer shape, pain or stiffness in a toe or toes, you should consider consulting your physician. Even if you’re not significantly bothered by some of these symptoms, the severity of a hammertoe can become worse over time and should be treated as soon as possible. Up to a point hammertoes can be treated without surgery and should be taken care of before they pass that point. After that, surgery may be the only solution.
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
There are several treatment options. These are based on how severe the problem has become. The sooner a person seeks treatment, the more options that person may have. Wear properly fitting shoes; this does not necessarily mean expensive shoes. Padding any prominent areas around the bony point of the toe may help to relieve pain. Medication that reduces inflammation can ease the pain and swelling. Sometimes a doctor will use cortisone injections to relieve acute pain. A podiatrist may also custom-make an insert to wear inside your shoe. This can reduce pain and keep the hammer toe from getting worse. Your doctor may recommend foot exercises to help restore muscle balance. Splinting the hammertoe toe may help in the very early stages.
Curative treatment of hammertoes varies depending upon the severity of the deformity. When the hammertoe is flexible, a simple tendon release in the toe works well. The recovery is rapid often requiring nothing more that a single stitch and a Band-Aid. Of course if several toes are done at the same time, the recovery make take a bit longer.