If you’ve ever seen a hammer inside a piano, you probably remember the distinctive shape—a curved mallet arcing at a right angle from the hammer arm. When the mallet pounds against the string, it produces a beautiful note.
When your toes start to look like piano hammers, you might make some music of your own, too. But it’ll be a lot less pleasant.
Hammertoes: Causes and Symptoms
Skeletal muscles often work in pairs. When you bend a joint, like an elbow or a toe, one muscle contracts and another relaxes. When you straighten the joint back out, the muscles reverse roles. If you’ve been cramming your feet into tight, pointed shoes—particularly heels—you may eventually create an imbalance, whereupon the required muscle is too weak to straighten your toe back out.
In the early stages, the digit remains flexible—you can move it around and push it back into place. If you wait longer, however, the joint may become rigid and immobile—and much harder to treat.
An unsightly deformity isn’t the only problem, either. You may feel pain at the top of the arch due to friction from your footwear, as well as pain in the ball of your foot at the base of the metatarsal bones. Corns and calluses commonly develop at the pressure points, too.
Because this condition is a progressive one, it will not get better if left alone—it will only get worse. So as soon as you notice the distinctive arching in your digits, call Family Foot & Ankle Center right away. We can help you devise a plan to relieve your symptoms and prevent the deformity from worsening.
Hammer Away Your Pain
Conservative treatment of hammertoes usually involves anti-inflammatories to manage the pain, coupled with one or more physical corrective devices. These may include splints to straighten out bent digits, custom orthotic devices to properly support your feet and control the muscle imbalance, and/or interior padding to remove friction and pressure on corns, calluses, or other sore areas that may develop as complications of the primary condition. Injection therapy using steroids can also be considered to minimize pain and swelling.
If the joints are still flexible, you can try some at-home exercises to strengthen your weakened muscles and tendons. If it isn’t causing pain, gently stretch your toes manually, or practice picking up marbles or crumpling a towel while you sit to read or watch TV.
Shoes for hammertoes must be selected carefully in order to avoid further aggravation. Go for curved forefoot designs and deep and wide toe boxes that provide tons of room—vertically and horizontally—to accommodate your arched digits. Always remember to check the roof of the insole, too—you may not notice at first, but raised seams or edges can cause painful pressure and friction.
The goal is that, with these strategies, your symptoms will subside and surgery will not be necessary. However, if the toes have become rigid, or if conservative treatments have been exhausted without success, surgery may be required to realign the toe. The exact procedure selected, and the length of recovery, will depend on the severity of the condition.
If you’re struggling with this unsightly and potentially painful condition, contact the Family Foot & Ankle Center. With 6 convenient locations in the metro region, we provide high quality foot care to patients throughout southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana. Reach us at (513) 728-4800 (Ohio number) or (859) 282-1572 (Kentucky number).