Tools—and body parts—are shaped certain ways for a reason. Changing that shape can actually make it harder for them to function. Imagine you need to hammer something together, so you pull out your box of nails. Some of your nails are bent, however. These nails can’t fully do what they are supposed to as a result. The same can be said of bent digits, like hammertoes. Toes are supposed to help you balance and walk normally. Stuck and painful toes hurt your independence.

Hammering Out the Cause

Hammertoes are a deformity in one of the small digits, though the second toe is the most common victim. The digit bends at the middle joint and becomes stuck there, putting abnormal pressure on the toe and causing pain. The condition is typically the result of a muscle or tendon imbalance in your foot. You have pairs of muscles and tendons that bend and straighten your toes. If one side tightens and shortens, and the opposite side is not strong enough to balance it out, your toe gets stuck.

You can develop the imbalance many ways. Shoes that don’t fit properly and cramp your toes can contribute to the problem. Nerve damage could weaken muscle or tendons and lead to the issue. Trauma to the toe could cause it to get stuck as well. Even preexisting conditions like bunions may play a role in the problem.

Bent Toes Hurt

There are two kinds of hammertoes: flexible and rigid. Flexible digits are still in the early stages of the condition. You can straighten them with your hands. These toes are usually much more responsive to conservative care. Rigid digits have advanced to the end stages of the condition. They are bent and fixed in place and can’t be straightened out. These may not respond to noninvasive therapies.

Whether your toe is stuck or not, however, the condition is uncomfortable. Usually you have pain on the top of the toe as well as the bottom from pressure from your shoes. You might develop calluses where your shoes rub against your skin. The bent joint often swells and aches. Your range of motion will be limited and you may end up with ball of the foot pain from the abnormal pressure on your digit.

Unbending the Joint

Treating hammertoes early makes it far more likely that conservative care will be enough to resolve the problem. The condition itself is easy to diagnose. Dr. Sanjay Patel will carefully examine your lower limbs to determine how serious the condition is and what may have caused it. Then we will help you establish a tailored treatment plan.

Most likely you’ll need to change your shoes. Wear styles with wide toe boxes that are long enough for your toes, so your digits aren’t cramped. Avoid high heels, since they put abnormal pressure on the muscles and tendons in your forefoot. If you have corns or calluses, pad them to alleviate the pressure. You might need orthotics to correct biomechanics that are straining your forefoot. Physical therapy exercises and stretches can help combat the tissue imbalances and allow your toe to flatten out. In some cases, strapping or taping the toe in the correct position may also help. If conservative treatment is not enough, you may need surgery to correct the imbalance and straighten the toe.

Hammertoes can become a permanent, painful problem if you ignore them. They unfortunately do not resolve on their own—but they can get worse. Don’t wait until only surgery will fix the problem to take care of your lower limbs. Contact Family Foot Care & Surgery, L.L.C. in Hamden and Milford, Connecticut, for an appointment. Use the web request form or call to reach us—203-876-7736 for the Milford location, or 203-288-4055 for the Hamden office—or fill out our contact form to reach us.