How To Prevent Hammer Toes
In this article we will talk about how to prevent hammer toe. Hammer toes usually start in the form of a mild deformity, but can progress and get worse if left unattended.
During the early stages the toes are quite flexible, but they can become stiff making movement painful. Because of the progressive nature of hammer toes, early intervention is always advisable.
What is a hammer toe?
Hammer toe is a deformity in the tendon that causes the toe to be flexed all the time. It is flexed in such a way the that the affected toe is always bent downwards.
The deformity usually occurs on the second, third and fourth toes. This is caused by weakened muscles.
The front part of the foot consists of toes which are connected to five longer bones.
The toes are called the phalanges and the five longer connecting bones are called metatarsal bones. They are connected by tendons and muscles.
Since our feet are the most badly abused and stressed part of our bodies, they can develop various problems over time.
When we gain weight, when we carry heavy loads , when we adopt a wrong gait due to poor walking style or poor posture or when we push our feet into the wrong foot wear, it is our legs muscles and tendons that bears the brunt leading to our toes getting deformed.
The muscles make the tendons shorter leading to the the toe making an inverted “V” shape by bending the first joint of the toe. The downward positioning of the toe takes on a hammer shape and hence the name hammer toe.
Hammer toes are sometimes hereditary but more often than not they are caused by wearing tight ill-fitting shoes.
Types of Hammer Toes
There are 2 varieties of hammer toes:
Flexible hammer toes
As the name suggests the affected toe can still be moved. The problem is still at its nascent stage and can be corrected through treatment options and change in footwear.
Rigid hammer toes
In this case the tendons in the toe become rigid and as a result toe movement becomes extremely painful. This is because the toe becomes stiff.
For a rigid hammer toes the doctor usually suggests wearing shoes with a deeper and fuller toe box. This will ease the pressure on the deformity.
Symptoms of Hammer Toes
- Pain and irritation of the affected toe arises as soon as you push your feet into the footwear.
- Corns and callus develop on the inverted ‘V’ of the first joint of the toe, between two toes or on the ball of the foot. These corns are caused by the friction with the shoes. The corn which develops is the hard corn which is painful.
- Contracture of the the toe. Contracture is a condition of shortening and hardening of muscles, tendons or other tissue, often leading to deformity and rigidity of the joints.
- Severe cases could lead to open sores being formed. you should visit a doctor if there is pus forming on the sores or if you have fever which is a sign of an infection having set in. Do not pop any blister that may arises as this could lead to infection.
Causes of Hammer Toes
- Certain styles of footwear can force the toe into a flexed position, regularly wearing this style of shoes repeatedly may cause the long second toe to bend. For example, wearing high heeled shoes, or shoes that are too pointed forces the feet into unnatural positions and bends the toe.
- Pushing your foot into shoes that are too tight – forcing wide feet into narrow shoes.
- Women are more prone to hammer toes since they prefer to wear daintily shaped footwear.
- Risk of hammer toes increases with age because of the shift in the overall balance of the body.
- Toe injuries like a broken or jammed toe left unattended over a period
- For most of the people the second toe is the longest. Some have it extra long, these are more prone to hammer toe.
- Hammer toe could also be inherited.
- People suffering from arthritis or diabetes are more likely to develop foot problems. Nerve damage and poor circulation weakens the muscles causing them to bend.
How to prevent hammer toes
Certain steps can be adopted at home to help prevent hammer toes.
- Hammer toes can be prevented by using low heeled, roomy shoes. Runners should try to use shoes with low heel to toe drops.
- Press the top of the shoe where the second toe sits and check if that toe is touching the first toe or bent. This will enable you to spread your toes, avoiding jamming and reducing pressure.
- Shoes that can be adjusted using laces or straps best fit those who are prone to hammer toes.
- Make sure to wear shoes with wide toe boxes. Opt for designs that provide a lot of foot space for your feet to move and grow. As an adult human foot will change size multiple times throughout it’s lifetime. Furthermore, feet even change their size as the day progresses, becoming larger towards the end of the day. The shoes should have enough room to wriggle the toes comfortably.
How to fix Hammer toes – Exercises
- This exercise is great for the toes to move about and stretch naturally. Picking marbles thrown on the floor using your toes have proved to be very effective.Place a few marbles on the floor and try to pick them up one by one with your toes. This will help strengthen the tendons, exercise the toes and correct the deformity.
- Stretch the toes several times a day to loosen the ligaments and relax the muscles. You could also gently massage the toes. Gently stretch each toe pulling horizontally away from the heel. Hold this position for 10 seconds on each toe. This should be done at least twice daily.
- Use splints while sleeping, this will help keep the toe in its natural position.
How do I know if I have hammer toes?
To find out if you have hammer toes, a medical examination may be necessary. Your doctor could ask you to take an X-ray for the affected toes to find out the extent of damage your toe has suffered.
But mostly if your toes are bending aggressively from the middle or second knuckle, then you should take preventive care. Visit a doctor if you are experiencing any sort of stiffness or pain.
Another telling sign is the presence of corns and calluses. Corns and calluses are common on people who have hammer toes. The corns usually appear on the joint of second toe and on the tips of the third and fourth toes.
Do children develop hammer toes?
Toddlers and children too can suffer from hammer toes. This could be due to birth defects or ill fitting shoes. Children sometimes wear shoes in which their feet are stuffed into by their parents. Many are not aware of the damages it can cause.
Toddlers are still in the process of learning to balance themselves on their feet. The act of balancing exerts pressure on wrong parts of the foot. Babies tend to get used to the routine of balancing themselves on the wrong part of the foot. The adult in-charge of the toddler may not be aware that the child toe is altering it’s shape or that the child is suffering as the child cannot express itself.
This could lead to the connected nerve getting damaged. Although, the nerve damage can be reversed with timely intervention.
Can hammer toes lead to foot pain?
Hammer toes cause pain. To relieve pain on the affected area you will have to alter your gait. The wrong posture adopted as a consequence of having hammer toes will lead to stress in other parts of the body. Causing pain in ankle, knees, Hips and back.
Can hammer toes lead to corns and callus?
Corns and calluses are a natural outcome of hammer toes. This is because the inverted “V” shape of the affected joint rubs against the top of the shoe. This causes excessive friction in the area, causing corns and calluses.
If you are prone to corns, use corn-plasts over the bent joint to protect the toe from friction with the shoe.
Can hammer toes lead to nerve injury?
Hammer toes put constant pressure on the nerves. Although a rare occurrence, this could lead to nerve injury.
Can hammer toes lead to imbalances while walking?
Due to pain in the foot you are bound to alter your walking style so as to put less weight on the painful part of the foot. Shifting your weight to parts of the foot that are unequipped to bear the load can cause imbalances in your natural walking gait. Activities such as running and sudden movements with the bent toe too could lead to various imbalances.
When should I see a doctor?
Hammer toe is a progressive deformity which could get worse and cause rigidity and pain in the toes, so it is best to visit a doctor as soon as you start to feel discomfort. A visit to the doctor becomes necessary if there is no improvement after all necessary precautions have been undertaken.
What are the common procedures that a doctor uses to diagnose a hammer toe?
In most cases, a hammer toe will be apparent. Yet the doctor will want to know about certain aspects of your medical history and examine your foot thoroughly.
The process of physical examination may be painful as the doctor may flex your toe to test the rigidity factor. They may also suggest a foot and ankle X-ray to check the degree of deformity.
The Doctor will also wish to examine if it is a problem you have been born with or whether it has developed. And if developed they would want to evaluate how long the problem has been persisting and the degree of damage suffered.
Hammer toes are not only progressive, in some patients the progress could be rapid. Moreover, hammer toes do no correct themselves. So your doctor might urge you to undergo the corrective measures listed here before suggesting surgery if necessary.
While having hammer toes can be quite painful and debilitating, using the tips mentioned in this article can help prevent or fix hammer toes.
You now know how to prevent hammer toes and how to diagnose them if they occur. Because, as the old saying goes, prevention is always better than cure.