Everyone knows what toes should look like – facing forward and lying flat. As such, it can be disconcerting to see a toe that has an abnormal bend. There are a couple of similar conditions that result in such a deformity, including hammertoes. Understanding this appropriately-named condition can help you recognize if it happens to you and know what can be done about it.
Hammertoes and Related Conditions
When it comes to toe deformities, there are actually three that are quite similar in nature – hammertoes, mallet toes, and claw toes. They have commonalities, but differences as well, so it is beneficial to know exactly what you are experiencing. These deformities can be explained as such:
- Hammertoes – In this condition, the deformity happens at the middle joint. The abnormal bend at this location causes the toe to bend down, towards the floor. This is most commonly seen affecting the second toe.
- Mallet Toes – Very similar to a case of hammertoe, mallet toe has the same kind of abnormal bend, but only in a different joint. There is still an abnormal downwards bend, only with a case of mallet toe it takes place in the joint closest to the front of the toe. Similar to a hammertoe, this condition will most likely impact the second toes.
- Claw Toes – Whereas this particular deformity still has commonalities with the previous two, it has certain differences. One key distinction between claw toes and the other deformities is the fact that there is an upwards bend in addition to the downwards ones. This bend takes place at the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTPJ), right where the toe meets the foot. The other two joints both bend downwards, like if the previous two conditions were combined. Additionally, claw toes usually happens to all four of the smaller toes, instead of a singular one.
Why Toe Deformities Occur
The underlying root cause of toe deformities is an imbalance in the muscles that control how the toes lay. When the muscle on one side is stronger than the other, the balance is thrown off and a bend develops.
There are several reasons why this could occur:
- Structural changes to feet. Feet gradually get longer and wider over time, even through adulthood. Although some people are born with hammertoes, most acquire them later in life as their arches begin to sag and fall, which in turn causes toes to curl and buckle. The more unstable your feet are, the worse your hammertoes are likely to be.
- Nerve damage. Progressive conditions like diabetes can cause the muscles in the feet to get weaker over time. This often leads to hammertoes or other deformities when the muscles are no longer strong enough to straighten out the toe.
- Shoes. Poor footwear can cause hammertoes to worsen. They may rub against the knuckles of the toes, leading to corns, calluses, or even ulcerations and wounds. Hammertoes can make it harder to find properly fitting shoes; this is an issue we can help resolve with proper treatment, as well as occasionally guiding our patients toward more optimal footwear.
Treating Toe Deformities
When patient toes are still flexible, it may simply be beneficial to switch to shoes that are roomier and provide more comfort. Given that corns and calluses are commonly caused when toe deformities lead to excess friction or pressure from footwear, choosing a pair that has plenty of room can provide relief. In addition to the shoes themselves, orthotics or pads can help to reposition an affected toe and relieve any accompanying pain and pressure.
Stretches and strengthening exercises help for some cases. We can provide ones that may work well for you, but a popular exercise is to pick up a thin towel or marbles using just the toes.
When conservative care isn’t sufficient, we will discuss surgical options. A surgical procedure can be used to release a tight tendon that keeps a toe from lying flat, as it is intended. Depending on your case, it might also be beneficial to remove some bone tissue to help with straightening the problem toe. If this is the path you wish to pursue, we will carefully discuss the entire process, from the first step to your final recovery, together.
Treatment for Toe Deformities in Oklahoma City, OK
When you begin noticing a case of hammertoes, mallet toes, or claw toes, come see our foot specialists as soon as possible. Early detection and care is essential for avoiding surgery. Contact Foot & Ankle Center of Oklahoma today by calling (405) 418-2676 or use our online form to schedule your appointment.
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