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What are hammertoes?
Hammertoes occur from a ligament and muscle imbalance around the toe joint. This causes the middle joint of the toes to bend and eventually become stuck in this position. Toes that curl instead of buckling are also called hammertoes. This can happen to any of the toes!  However, women are more likely to experience pain that’s associated with hammertoes than men because of the types of shoes worn. This toe deformity can be a serious problem in people with poor circulation or diabetes. Hammertoes can also cause corns or callouses from toes rubbing against the shoe.

There are two types of hammertoes. The first are hammertoes that are flexible. If the toe is still able to move at the joint, then it’s classified as a flexible hammertoe. This is an earlier, milder form of this deformity. If hammertoes are treated at this stage, they are more likely to be corrected with nonsurgical treatments. The other type is the rigid hammertoe. When the tendons in the toes become rigid, they cause the joint to become misaligned. At this stage of the deformity, the toes can’t be moved. Surgery is usually performed.

What causes hammertoes?

Did you know that the muscles in each toe work in pairs? If the toe muscles get out of balance, hammertoes can form. This imbalance puts pressure on the tendons in the toe and joints. The causes of hammertoes include:

  • Genes – There could be an inherited tendency to develop hammertoes because the foot structure is unstable. People with flat feet or high arches are more susceptible to hammertoes.
  • Arthritis
  • Trauma – Injuries such as subbing, jamming or breaking the toes could make them more likely to become deformed.
  • Nerve disorders of injuries – Hammertoes are more common in people with nerve damage to their feet, such as people with diabetes or who have had strokes.
  • Certain shoes – Tight footwear or high heels can crowd your toes into a space that’s not large enough for your toes to lie flat.

How are hammertoes treated?

Nonsurgical methods are often used to treat hammertoes. This includes wearing roomier footwear, using pads and support or orthotics inside shoes and doing toe exercises. By doing this, more room is provided for the toes to straighten, the toes are cushioned and held in a straight position. You can also take medicine to treat the pain associated with hammertoes. Surgery is only an option if nonsurgical treatment doesn’t stop the pain, if the deformity limits your activity, or if you cannot move your toe joints.

The goals of nonsurgical treatment are to relieve pain and prevent the problem from becoming worse. Even if your toes stay bent, the treatment will be considered successful if the pain is relieved enough to make you comfortable.

Can hammertoes be prevented?

One of the best ways to prevent hammertoes is to wear shoes that fit properly. When buying shoes, look for enough toe room and avoid pointy-toed shoes. Also wear shoes with lower heels. Avoiding high-heels can help you prevent back problems. Buying shoes with adjustability can also help. Look for shoes with laces because they tend to be roomier and more adjustable.

When buying shoes make sure to go at the end of the day. Your feet tend to be smaller in the morning and then swell as the day progresses. Consider having the salesperson measure your feet as well, especially the width. Your feet may have changed size since you last went shoe shopping. Lastly, just ask for the right fit. Some shoe repair stores can stretch shoes in the tighter spots.

You don’t have to live with hammertoes! Contact Axis Foot & Ankle Clinic via our website or call  (403) 477-3338 to set up an appointment with Dr. Andy Irvine at any of our three locations.


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