Hammer toes are a common condition of the small toes, where the toes bend or curl up. The second toe is most commonly affected, however the third, fourth and fifth toes can also be involved. Initially, affected toes are flexible, and can be improved with non-invasive treatment. But as the condition progresses the joints become stiff leading to a rigid, permanently bent toe.
Extensive wearing of tight-fitting or high-heeled shoes is a common cause, as tight toe sections increase pressure on the toes. With time this squeezing causes the muscles to tighten and lose flexibility.
Bunions can also increase the risk of hammer toes. The bending of the big toe towards the smaller toes reduces the space and forces the toes into a bent position to compensate.
- Painful or inflamed areas on the toe where it makes contact and rubs against footwear
- Formation of corns or callous – these may be present on the toes, between two of them, or on the ball of the foot. This is due to increased pressure or irritation in the area, often due to footwear
- Intense friction over a long period of time can also lead to open wound or ulcer formation
Treatment for hammer toes involves correcting the position of the toes. There are a number of options used in treatment.
- Padding and strapping are used to adjust the position of the toes and to reduce irritation. Strapping can be used on flexible toes to reduce the pressure on footwear, whilst padding can be used to protect areas of irritation.
- Exercises are beneficial in tackling muscle imbalances. Your podiatrist may prescribe some exercises to complete at home.
- Suitable footwear is required to reduce irritation and compression of lesser toes. Deep and wide toe boxes provide adequate room for toes.
- Orthotic devices can be beneficial in improving alignment due to muscle imbalances.