Hammertoe is a common foot deformity that affects the second, third, or fourth toe. Typically speaking, the condition causes an unnatural curve to develop at the proximal interphalangeal joint—the first bend in the toe. In many cases, hammertoe causes extreme pressure and pain at the affected site. In the absolute most severe cases, some patients may require surgery in order to address the issue. Of course, surgery isn’t always a necessity in treating the condition. In some cases, patients may achieve sufficient relief through medication or wearing more comfortable shoes with proper support.
Your treatment options for hammertoe will depend upon the nature of your deformity. For example: Do you have flexible or rigid hammertoe? The main difference between these two subcategories is the maneuverability of the affected joint. As you might expect, a flexible hammertoe is still movable. Therefore, it is typically possible to resolve flexible hammertoe without the need for surgery. Often in these cases, the best solution is as simple as changing the kind of shoes that you wear. Of course, rigid hammertoe is another story entirely. This form of the deformity involves a situation in which the affected joint has lost all mobility. Changing shoes for this form of the condition may provide temporary relief; however, the patient will require surgery to achieve more lasting results.
If you suspect that you have a hammertoe deformity, then you should seek medical consultation as soon as possible. These conditions are progressive, which means that they will only worsen without treatment. And, of course, the sooner that you address the issue, the more likely you are to avoid surgery in the future.
Causes and risk factors for hammertoe range from the preventable to the unavoidable or congenital. For example, the main preventable cause of hammertoe is simply wearing the wrong kind of shoes. Foot-binding as a cultural phenomenon may have ended almost two centuries ago. But, this didn’t necessarily result in the extinction of wearing shoes that are too tight. Even today, many men and women knowingly wear shoes with too little space in the toe box. Naturally, this is one of the main risk factors for developing a hammertoe deformity.
Unfortunately, some risk factors exist outside of the realm of our control. For example, certain injuries (such as a stubbed or broken toe) may make it more likely for the affected digit to develop the condition. Additionally, some people are simply born with an unnatural imbalance of the muscles, which may lead to a deformity in due time. Other risk factors for developing the condition include:
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Symptoms of a hammertoe are extremely conspicuous. Chances are if you have the condition, then you already know about it. In a way, this is a blessing as much as it is a curse. For one, it makes it much easier to identify that there is a problem and that you should go see a doctor about it. Unfortunately, the high visibility of the deformity can also be a cause for insecurity for many patients. Understand, however, that if you do have the condition, then it is very treatable. There are plenty of avenues available to you as far as treatment is concerned.
The primary symptoms of hammertoe deformities are as follows:
Your doctor will be able to diagnose this condition during a physical examination of the affected foot. Usually, this involves gently moving the affected digit in different directions to see if doing so causes any pain or discomfort. Of course, your doctor will likely be able to make a diagnosis simply by looking at the affected area. That being said, if your case is severe enough, your doctor may order x-rays to further evaluate your condition. Usually, this is done to determine if surgery will be a necessary course of action.
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There are both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options available to patients depending on the severity of their condition. Generally speaking, a doctor will try to exhaust conservative options first before opting for surgery.
Aside from changes in footwear (which we have previously addressed), your doctor may prescribe several conservative options to resolve your hammertoe pain. For one, your doctor may prescribe special pads to protect any corns or calluses from further damage. In addition, your doctor may order a custom orthotic device that you can place in your shoe to moderate tendon or muscle imbalances. Lastly, if your pain is not too severe, you may find that over-the-counter NSAIDs provide temporary relief from your discomfort.
As far as surgical procedures go, your doctor will present you with a few options:
If you suspect that you have a hammertoe deformity, please contact NJ Spine & Orthopedic at (855) 586-2615. Our medical staff is expertly trained to find a treatment plan that suits the specific needs of your case. We will work day and night to ensure that you are able to return to a pain-free and active lifestyle. Contact our podiatry department today and achieve relief from ankle, foot, and toe pain!
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