What Are Hammer Toes?

Overview

A hammer toe develops when one of a person’s middle toes has a bending or contracture at the first or second joint. It can occur on the second, third or fourth toe. This bend in the toe is a bony prominence that makes the toe look like the head of a hammer; hence the name “hammer toe.” It is also called a claw toe.

Flexible Hammer Toes

In the early stages, a hammer toe is flexible and can be treated without surgery. It is still movable at the joint and is not considered serious. Since this is a progressive disorder, it is better to identify and correct it early.

Rigid Hammer Toes

If a flexible hammer toe is not treated, it will eventually become rigid. The tendon becomes stiff and tight, and the joint becomes unmovable. This is a more serious condition than a flexible hammer toe. It is often seen in people with arthritis or in people who have waited too long for treatment.

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms include pain in the affected toe when wearing shoes, corns or calluses on the top joint of the toe or between two toes, inflammation or redness over the joint, restricted motion of the toe and a callus on the ball of the foot at the base of the hammer toe.

After time, the toe becomes more disfigured and bent, taking on a claw or hammer appearance. Symptoms become worse as the condition continues without treatment.

Causes

In some people, hammer toes are inherited. An imbalance of the muscle and tendon is the most common cause. The muscles that extend and contract the toes are out of balance, causing the muscles that bend the toes to over-power the muscles that extend. The toes stay flexed or bent. Shoes that do not fit well contribute to the problem, pushing the toes against the shoes.

Underlying conditions that may cause hammer toe are arthritis, diabetes, muscular sclerosis and Marfan’s syndrome, a condition when people are lanky with loose joints, according to the “New York Times.”

Diagnosis

The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons recommends consulting a medical doctor for a correct diagnosis of hammer toe. Early treatment will greatly improve the outcome. X-rays will most likely be taken to see the degree of contracture, and the doctor will assess the progression of the deformity. With these measures, he will choose the best treatment plan.

About this Author

Deila Taylor received a bachelor\’s degree in biochemistry from Occidental College with graduate work at USC in pharmacology and nutrition as well as coursework at The East West School of Herbology. She is a small business owner in the alternative energy field.