Hammer toe is a relatively common foot condition in which the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th toe becomes permanently bent due to muscle imbalance at one of the joints. Frequently, this ailment is also aggravated by poorly fitting shoes or socks that are too small and cramp the toes. Ultimately, the tendons responsible for moving the toe up and down start to tug with uneven tension. At this point, the toe starts to buckle causing an abnormal V-shaped bending of the toe.
Women tend to be at an increased risk for the pain and discomfort associated with hammer toes because of the types of shoes many of them wear.
Hammer toe can also be a serious problem in those who suffer from Diabetes and/or other medical conditions where blood circulation is poor. These individuals should seek the advice of their doctor at the first signs or symptoms of any kind of trouble with their feet.
Two Types of Hammer toes
- Flexible Hammer toes: If the toe is still moveable at the joint, it is referred to as a flexible hammer toe. Since this is an early form of this foot condition, there are more treatment options available.
- Rigid Hammer toes: When the tendons of the toe become rigid and cause misalignment of the joint, the toe can no longer be moved. Generally speaking, the rigid form of this foot condition can only be adequately treated with surgery.
Hammer toe Causes
As mentioned above, when the muscles of the toes get pulled out of balance, hammer toe can develop. This imbalance puts a great deal of pressure on associated tendons and joints which forces the toe into a shape that resembles the head of a hammer.
There are five main causes of imbalance of the toe muscles including:
- Heredity: People can inherit the tendency to develop hammer toes from other members of their family.
- Arthritis: Two types of arthritis (e.g. gout and/or rheumatoid arthritis) can contribute to the development of hammer toes. Both of these arthritic conditions often damage the toe joints leading to a de-stabilization of the delicate balance between the muscles and tendons. Addressing these underlying causes is crucial to an overall treatment plan for hammer toes.
- Toe Injuries: Poorly fitting footwear often leads to injuries of the toes. When an individual's footwear is tighter or shorter than it should be as well as too pointed, his/her shoes push the toes out of balance. In particular, overly pointy high-heeled shoes are capable of exerting a great deal of pressure onto all of the toes, which can result in the development of hammer toes.
- High or Low Arches: Excessively high or low arches can sometimes be associated with the occurrence of hammer toes. If this is the case, consider buying orthotic insoles from Lynco.
- Other Foot Conditions: Any foot condition (e.g. bunions) which alters the distribution of pressure across the ball of the foot can contribute to hammering of the smaller toes. Often, the second toe will begin to curl up when someone has a bunion, even if the bunion itself is not causing any foot pain and/or discomfort.
So how do you treat hammer toes? Find shoes with a lot of room in the toe box, like many from Vionic with Orthaheel Technology and Dansko, and avoid wearing high heels. Additionally, ice packs may help to ease physical discomfort. Talk to a medical professional like your podiatrist about exercises and stretches you can routinely perform.