Anyone can develop a toe deformity at any time. They start small and simple, but the longer they are allowed to progress, the more painful and limiting they become. Among the most common are hammertoes.

What Is the Deformity?

Hammertoes develop when the tendons that help keep your toes straight become unbalanced. The middle joint of one of your small toes, frequently the one closest to your big toe, gets stuck in a bent position. You have pairs of tendons that maintain your toe’s position. If one side contracts and the other doesn’t balance it out, a toe joint bends and sticks there.

Plenty of issues can contribute to this imbalance. Typically it’s a biomechanical problem, or a side effect of a preexisting problem. Pressure on the forefoot from issues like bunions is a common culprit. The shoes you wear can impact the condition as well. Shoes that are too tight, or have raised heels, cramp the toes and may encourage the problem with your tendons.

What Happens to My Toe?

A bent toe is uncomfortable. It hurts to wear shoes, and you may find the cramped joint develops corns and calluses where it rubs against your footwear. Sometimes you have noticeable irritation in the toe that creates a burning sensation. If the condition is particularly severe, or you have a condition like diabetes, you may develop open sores instead of corns.

The condition is progressive, so it worsens the longer it goes untreated. Initially when your toe sticks, the joint is still flexible. You’re able to straighten out your toe with your hands or when you change shoes. As the problem progresses, however, your joint stiffens. It stays bent and eventually becomes completely stuck. If it’s not treated, your toe may become permanently bent.

How Can You Treat This?

For most hammertoes, the treatment is conservative. Dr. Victoria Melhuish will examine your lower limbs to determine the severity of your condition and help you decide what therapies will be most effective for your unique feet. Our staff may need X-rays or other diagnostic images to help assess the damage and check for other foot or ankle problems that may be contributing. Then we’ll help you remedy your toe deformity.

The most important step will be changing your shoes to make sure you’re wearing styles that have plenty of room in the toe box for all your toes to lay flat. Avoid footwear with high heels or with narrow or pointed fronts. Instead, switch to shoes with rounded ends and room to wiggle your toes freely. Make sure you have sufficient arch support as well. If you have a biomechanical condition that impacts your feet, you may need custom orthotics to help correct it and reduce the pressure on your forefoot. Special pads around the affected toe can help protect you from corn and callus build-up as well.

Stretching your toe and icing the affected joint to relieve irritation may help with the discomfort, too. Stretches to relax the tightened tendons and exercises to strengthen the rest of your foot can help combat the imbalance. Use your toes to pick up marbles, then point and flex your digits repeatedly to work the small muscles that keep your forefoot balanced. If your foot isn’t responding to these conservative treatments, you may need surgery to release the fixed joint.

Hammertoes are a common problem with many possible treatments. You don’t have to suffer with scrunched, uncomfortable digits. If your toes are getting stuck in bent positions, let our team at Sierra Foot & Ankle know about it. See how we can help. Just call (775) 783-8037 or use our website to make an appointment with us.

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