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What Is Hammertoe?

For most, hammertoe may sound like a crazy and unfamiliar condition. However, hammertoe affects about 200,000 Americans per year and is a condition that can sometimes be avoided altogether.

Hammertoe is an abnormal bend of the middle joint of little toes. It frequently affects the toe next to the big toe. The irregular bending causes problems to develop because it puts pressure on the toes when wearing shoes.

Hammertoes typically start out as mild deformities that get worse over time. If you think you may have hammertoe, it is important that you seek professional care from a podiatrist so your condition doesn’t get worse.

Causes
The most common cause of hammertoe is an imbalance in the muscle or tendon that results from gradual changes in the foot. The condition may get worse if you wear shoes that force your toe into a cramped position like high heels or shoes with narrow toe boxes. Hammertoes can also be genetic, or they could be the result of a previous foot problem.

Symptoms
Hammertoes are usually self-diagnosable. Symptoms include:

  • Painful toe
  • Toe that is hard to move
  • Corns, calluses or open sores on the toe
  • Inflammation, redness or swelling
  • Joint stiffness
  • Physical deformity (bending)

Diagnosis
When you come in for treatment at a podiatry appointment, the doctor will talk to you about your medical history and symptoms. He/she will also examine your foot and may manipulate the foot to try to replicate the symptoms. X-rays may be needed to further examine the foot and compare to any x-rays taken in the past.

Treatment
If caught early on, hammertoes can often be treated with non-invasive options such as using shoe inserts or wearing shoes with roomier tow boxes. If they are left untreated, they may have to be treated with surgery. If you have the symptoms of hammertoe, schedule an appointment with a foot and ankle specialist to discuss your treatment options.

Avoiding Hammertoe

The best way to prevent hammertoe is to wear shoes that fit properly in length and allow your toes to have breathing room. If you’re a high-heel lover, seek out heels that are 2 inches or less. Lower heels make it less likely to have pressure and bending in your toes. 

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