Hammertoes usually start out as mild deformities and get progressively worse over time. In the earlier stages, hammertoes are flexible and the symptoms can often be managed with changes in shoe styles and foot care products. But if left untreated, hammertoes can become more rigid and painful. Corns are more likely to develop as time goes on-and corns never really go away, even after trimming. In more severe cases of hammertoes, corn lesions may evolve into severe ulcerations. These lesions frequently occur in patients who have vascular disease or are Diabetic with neuropathy. The ulcerations can extend to the bone and result in infection and possible loss of digit or amputation.
Wearing ill-fitting shoes is probably the main cause of hammer toe. As the toe bends, tendons add to the problem by contracting in such a way that the bending is reinforced to the point of becoming permanent. In some cases, tendons that are abnormal to begin with may start the bending process.
If the toes remain in the hammertoe position for long periods, the tendons on the top of the foot will tighten over time because they are not stretched to their full length. Eventually, the tendons shorten enough that the toe stays bent, even when shoes are not being worn. The symptoms of hammertoe include a curling toe, pain or discomfort in the toes and ball of the foot or the front of the leg, especially when toes are stretched downward, thickening of the skin above or below the affected toe with the formation of corns or calluses, difficulty finding shoes that fit well. In its early stages, hammertoe is not obvious. Frequently, hammertoe does not cause any symptoms except for the claw-like toe shape.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
People with a hammer toe benefit from wearing shoes in which the toe box is made of a flexible material and is wide enough and high enough to provide adequate room for the toes. High-heeled shoes should be avoided, because they tend to force the toes into a narrow, flat toe box. A doctor may recommend an insert (orthotic) for the shoe to help reduce friction and pressure on the hammer toe. Wearing properly fitted shoes may reduce pain and inflammation. It may also prevent ulcers from developing and help existing ulcers heal. However, the hammer toe does not disappear.
If these non-invasive treatments don?t work, or if the joint is rigid, a doctor?s only recourse may hammertoe be to perform surgery. During the surgery, the doctor makes an incision and cuts the tendon to release it or moves the tendon away from or around the joint. Sometimes part of the joint needs to be removed or the joint needs to be fused. Each surgery is different in terms of what is needed to treat the hammertoe. Normally after any foot surgery, patients use a surgical shoe for four to six weeks, but often the recovery from hammertoe surgery is more rapid than that. An unfortunate reality is that hammertoe can actually return even after surgery if a patient continues to make choices that will aggravate the situation. Though doctors usually explain pretty clearly what needs to be done to avoid this.