A hammer toe is a bent smaller toe, sometimes swollen and painful. There are two different types.
Flexible Hammer Toes
These hammer toes are less serious because they can be diagnosed and treated while still in the developmental stage. They are called flexible hammer toes because they are still moveable at the joint.
Rigid Hammer Toes
This variety is more developed and more serious than the flexible condition. Rigid hammer toes can be seen in patients with severe arthritis, for example, or in patients who wait too long to seek professional treatment. The tendons in a rigid hammer toe have become tight, and the joint misaligned and immobile.
A podiatrist can diagnose a hammertoe by physical exam and x-ray. Both will tell the doctor how advanced the problem is and help him or her determine what treatments to try first.
Hammer Toe Treatment
Treatment options vary with the type and severity of each hammer toe, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to avoid surgery. Your doctor will examine and X-ray the affected area and recommend a treatment plan specific to your condition.
- Padding and Taping: Padding and taping are usually the first steps in treating hammer toes. Padding the hammer toe minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping may change the imbalance around the toes and thus relieve the stress and pain.
- Medication: Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections can be prescribed to ease acute pain and inflammation caused by the hammer toe.
- Shoe Inserts: Custom shoe inserts, called orthotics, made by your podiatrist, may be useful in controlling foot function. An orthotic device may reduce symptoms and prevent the worsening of the hammer toe.
- Surgery: Several surgical procedures are available to the podiatric physician. For less severe deformities, the surgery will remove the bony prominence and restore normal alignment of the toe joint, thus relieving pain. Severe hammer toes, may require more complex surgery. Recuperation takes time, and some swelling and discomfort are common for several weeks following surgery.