Stand up and take a look at your feet. Do your toes stretch straight out in a normal position or are they slightly curled under as if you were trying to grip something? If your toes are slightly bent or curled, you may be experiencing what medical professionals call hammertoes.
What Are Hammertoes?
When people hear the word “hammertoe,” they often picture a widening of the area of the toe that sits under the nail. What a hammertoe actually is is a slight curvature of the toe into a downward position. Hammertoes typically begin as mild curvatures that progressively worsen over time.
Most people experience hammertoes because they have an imbalance in their muscles and tendons. The imbalance causes the toe or toes to pull under, eventually causing a permanent change in the foot if not treated. Initially, hammertoes are flexible but become immobile as they worsen. In other words, if left untreated, the toes will cease normal movement.
Symptoms of Hammertoes
There are a variety of symptoms associated with hammertoes. The most common are:
- Pain in the affected toes when wearing shoes, especially shoes with a narrow toe box.
- Corns or calluses.
- A burning sensation or inflammation.
- Toes that contract or turn down.
When hammertoe is severe, the patient may suffer with open sores. These can be uncomfortable and lead to further complications such as infection.
Hammertoes are typically apparent upon physical examination. A podiatrist, despite being able to see the hammertoes, will gather a history of symptoms and may take X-rays to determine the extend of the deformity. A thorough examination coupled with imagine and a medical history will allow a podiatrist to confidently diagnose a patient with hammertoes.
The way a patient is treated depends on the severity of the deformity and the rapidness of its progression. A podiatrist may treat hammertoes non-surgically with padding, orthotic devices, medication and even a suggestion of changes in preferred footwear.
Do I Need Surgery?
One of the first questions asked of a podiatrist is if surgery is necessary. In severe cases of hammertoe, the answer is “yes.” Surgery may be required if there are open sores present, pain is unmanageable through medication or the hammertoes are extremely rigid.
Discuss your unique situation with your podiatrist to determine which treatment option is correct for your condition. While at-home treatments do help some patients, others require more intensive therapies up to and including surgery.
Hammertoes are not rare. Years of wearing incorrect shoes or those that are not healthy for the feet can cause this condition. If you believe that you may be developing hammertoes, early intervention is the best choice. Contact Dr. Elizabeth Auger if you live in or around Salt Lake City. Dr. Auger will examine your feet and toes and diagnose your condition. She will work with you to create a treatment plan and get you back on comfortable feet again.