Hammer toe is a physical deformity that results from the muscle and ligament over the toe joint being out of alignment. An affected toe is forced into a bent position and remains fixed. Bending the toe can cause rubbing and irritation on the top of the toe joint that may lead to blisters and corns. High heels and ill-fitting shoes that force the foot into an unnatural position are the most common causes of hammer toe. Other contributing factors include arthritis, injury to a toe or a family history of hammer toe. Diabetes and poor circulation are risk factors for serious complications from this condition. Patients with these conditions should consult a doctor as soon as possible if they experience any foot problems.
A physician will perform a physical exam of the foot and order an X-ray to examine bones in the foot. He will also classify the case of hammer toe as either flexible or rigid. Flexible hammer toe is a mild condition with several nonsurgical treatment options. In this case, the joint allows movement of the toe. Rigid hammer toe can only be treated surgically because the tendons have stiffened and pushed the joint out of alignment.
To treat hammer toe, the doctor may recommend well-fitting shoes with a low heel, orthotic inserts to reposition the toe or custom orthotic shoes. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen) and nonprescription pain relievers can help decrease pain and joint inflammation. Corns or calluses that develop from hammer toe can be treated with over-the-counter remedies like Moleskin. Other treatment options include taping or splinting the toe, toecaps or slings and toe exercises or stretches. If conservative treatment options fail, surgery may be an effective treatment option. However, it is possible for the hammer toe to recur after surgery.