Are your toes curled under? Are you having trouble walking? Do your feet hurt? Do you think you have hammertoe? Also called hammer toes, this condition can be painful and embarrassing. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, hammertoe forms when a joint in one of your small toes bends due to weak foot muscles. The result is a toe that curls or buckles under. The affected toe may even cross over an adjoining toe. This can happen to one or both joints and can occur in more than one toe.
How do you get hammertoes?
Hammertoe is often seen in those who wear shoes that are smaller or pointed at the tip, or box, of the shoe. It is often seen in women who wear high heels because the toes are pushed into a space that's too small and they end up bearing the pressure of the whole foot; the higher the heel, the worse the pressure. Stubbing, breaking or hurting your toe in some other way can also cause hammertoes.
You may also get hammertoes if they run in your family or if you have arthritis. They can also be caused by an imbalance of foot muscles or tight tendons. The lack of balance can be due to a misalignment of your feet; this can lead to many different foot problems including hammertoe.
What are the symptoms of hammertoe?
The most common symptoms of hammertoe are pain, curling of the toe, corns and calluses on the toe and trouble moving it. You may be more prone to getting hammertoes if you are female, your second toe is longer than your big toe, or you have diabetes or arthritis. The risk of getting these painful curled toes increases as you age. Do you wear high heels or shoes with a tight box? Does diabetes, arthritis or hammertoe run in your family? If so, you could have hammertoes -- especially if you're older.
How do you know if you have hammertoe?
You should see a foot doctor, or a New Hampshire podiatrist, if you have any foot problems, especially if you have any pain. The podiatrist will give you an exam to figure out just what the problem is. He or she will ask questions about your condition. He or she will want to know when the problem started, if you had an injury to your foot and what symptoms you are feeling. You will also be asked about your own medical history as well as your family's. Your podiatrist might also order an x-ray of your foot.
You should not try to diagnose foot problems yourself. What might seem like a little problem could be -- or become -- a big one. The earlier you can get help, the easier it will be to get the problem fixed. Plus, a podiatrist can see problems that you can't and will know what to do about them.
How does a podiatrist treat hammertoe?
There is more than one way to treat hammertoe. The way yours will be treated depends on how bad or painful your hammertoe is. A foot doctor can determine what is causing your toe pain and how bad the problem is.
You will need an exam that might include x-rays. If your toe can still move at the joint your hammertoe is in the early stages. That's good news! In this case, you may get relief through conservative, or minor, treatment.
Options include lifestyle changes such as not wearing high heels but choosing shoes with a deep toe box, wearing soft insoles and/or putting special pads on corns caused by your hammertoe. Your podiatrist may also show you how to stretch and strengthen your toe muscles.
It is bad news if your bent or curled toe is rigid -- but not that bad! Treatment for more severe hammertoe involves surgery but your podiatrist can perform this in a minimally invasive way. This means you won't have much pain after the surgery and you will recover fairly quickly.
Minor surgery may involve removing the bony part of the toe that is causing the problem. It might also include fixing the misalignment of your foot. If your feet are not aligned right, your ankle bone slides off your heel bone. This makes your feet fall inward and out of line.
The fix is a minor surgery during which your podiatrist places a tiny stent in the space between your ankle and heel. This helps keep your foot from becoming unstable and falling inward. This surgical realignment of your foot can prevent hammertoes and other painful foot problems. Does it sound complex? It really isn't. You will most likely be wearing your regular shoes within five days of this minor surgery.
Can hammertoes and toe pain be prevented?
Even if you are at high risk for hammertoes or other foot problems, there are things you can do to help prevent them. Of course there are no guarantees you'll never get hammertoe, but why not be proactive?
- Wear the right shoes. Sure! Those three-inch-high, pointy-toed, red Jimmy Choos are the prettiest shoes in the shop. But they're bad for your feet and you know it. You should wear shoes that are deep enough in the toe box for your toes to wiggle comfortably. Your shoes should also be wide enough overall and properly support your arches. Ill-fitting shoes can cause misalignment of the feet.
- Use a pumice stone. If you have calluses or painful corns, rub them gently with pumice. Use pads and inserts so corns don't rub against your shoes.
- Exercise your feet. Yes, you should be stretching your feet and toes to keep them strong and flexible. As you age, your muscles tend to weaken -- even the muscles in your feet. This leads to the imbalance and misalignment that causes problems like hammertoe.
- Know your family medical history. If you're at risk for a condition such as diabetes or arthritis, take steps to prevent and treat it. If you know you have diabetes, watch for signs of foot or toe problems.
- Get help. If your toe has been hurt in some way, take care of it. See a podiatrist right away if you have toe pain, foot pain or trouble walking. Just stubbing your toe can lead to painful hammertoe.
There are many kinds of foot pain and toe problems that can be due to your feet not be aligned the way they should be. Hammertoes are just one of them. Don't take toe pain lightly; contact the caring New Hampshire podiatrists at Nagy Footcare.
We believe you should not have to suffer foot or toe pain. We believe you deserve to be listened to. We believe you should know what is causing your pain and understand how we will treat it. We believe you should have access to modern technologies and treatment that can help you.
If you think you might have hammertoe or any other foot problem, let us help you. At Nagy Footcare, our best day is when you wake up with no foot pain.