Have your toes become crooked, or curled down over the years? Are you getting pain on the tops of your toes with shoe pressure, or pain at the end of the toes or between them? You may be developing hammertoes, a common condition where your toes have become curled down or turned in one direction or another.
If this sounds like your feet, you are not alone. Hammertoes are one of the most common types of foot problems that occur. And while they tend to get worse over time, they can occur in people of all ages.
Most hammertoes occur because of a slight muscle imbalance that causes certain muscles to pull the toes into positions where they shouldn’t be. It may start out as a flexible condition, common in children, but over time, the toes get used to sitting in the wrong position and eventually they can become semi-rigid or rigid hammertoe deformities, where you can’t even straighten them out if you tried.
Once you have hammertoes, it’s almost impossible to straighten them out again without surgery. But having hammertoes doesn’t necessarily mean that you need surgery. Many people live their entire lives without pain from hammertoes, and don’t even know that they have them! Others may need to wear comfortable shoes to stay pain-free, but it doesn’t affect their lifestyle.
Conservative treatments are aimed at keeping you comfortable. Wear shoes that don’t put pressure on the toes, such as wider shoes, or shoes that are deeper in the toe box area, or even open shoes. There are different types of pads that can separate the toes or provide a cushion to the toes.
If you have developed thickened skin or corns, as a result of the hammertoe, keeping them filed down on your own or seeing a podiatrist periodically can help keep you comfortable.
When conservative care is not enough to keep you comfortable, surgical correction may be necessary to straighten the toes. This is performed on an outpatient basis, and you can usually walk right away, commonly in a surgical shoe or boot for several weeks.
Since we know that hammertoes are usually the result of a muscle imbalance, correcting that muscle imbalance can help stop, or at least slow down, the progression of the hammertoe deformity. This is why it’s recommended that custom orthotics be worn in the shoes for patients who have developed hammertoes that are not yet painful. This maintains the right support for your feet, eliminating the muscle imbalance that has caused the hammertoes to get worse over the years. Similarly, when surgery is necessary, the toes are straightened, but the overall cause of the deformity is still present and needs to be addressed to help prevent recurrence of the hammertoes. This is why orthotics are recommended even after surgery.
Come see us at Kansas City Foot and Ankle if you’re developing hammertoes so we can discuss options to keep you comfortable, prevent the condition from getting worse, or if necessary, surgically correct your hammertoes to get you back to your active lifestyle quickly and comfortably.