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Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic

Hammertoes - Bent Up Digits

Toes need to wiggle. Believe it or not, but your digits’ ability to move freely and spread wide apart helps you balance and push off the ground to walk. When they can’t do their jobs, you lose power in your feet. Digits that can’t straighten or stretch out, such as hammertoes, can make walking and normal activities difficult and unpleasant.

What Are They?

Hammertoes are digits that have become stuck in a bent position. The tendons and muscles that hold the affected toe in place become unbalanced, allowing the underside to tighten and curl up the toe. This causes the middle joint to bend sharply upward. Several different problems can lead to this imbalance, including nerve damage, but tight, narrow shoes that squeeze the toes are the most common culprit. High heels and pointed toe boxes squish the digits and add pressure to the ball of the foot, encouraging certain tissues to contract and tighten. Any of the small toes can develop this problem, though the digit closest to the big toe is the one most commonly effected.

          Hammertoes          Healthy Toes

This toe deformity is a progressive condition that can make walking and wearing many types of shoes uncomfortable. The bent joint frequently rubs against your footwear and develops corns. Initially, when the problem first manifests, the affected toe is still flexible. As time passes and the tissues grow more unbalanced, though, the digit will become stiffer and trapped in place, making it harder to treat.

Can You Treat Them?

Most hammertoes that are caught early enough can be treated successfully using entirely conservative measures. You’ll need to have your foot examined by an expert, like our staff here at Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic. We can evaluate your toe and determine how far your condition has progressed and the source of your problem. Then we can help you determine the best course of action to relieve your pain.

You will most likely need to change your shoes. Footwear that squeezes the toes or contributes to pressure on the ball of the foot exacerbates your condition. Tight shoes can also rub against corns and calluses. You’ll need to choose footwear with enough room for your toes to wiggle freely and cushioning for the ball of the foot. You may need special pads to prevent rubbing against the bent joint. Sometimes preexisting conditions encourage toe problems, so orthotics to support your particular foot structure may also help.

Physical therapy stretches and exercises can relax the tightened tissues and rebuild strength in the weakened ones. Spreading your toes along with pointing and flexing your feet stretches them out. Picking up towels or marbles with just your toes works the smaller muscles in your feet. If your toe is too stiff, you may need surgery to release the tightened structures and allow the digit to move again.


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If your hammertoe is painfully stuck in a bent position and rubs against your footwear, it may make it unpleasant to continue with your normal activities. A little treatment and care can eliminate your discomfort and hopefully prevent the need for surgery. Contact Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic in Universal City or Pleasanton, TX, for an appointment or more information. You can reach us by calling (210)375.3318 or visiting the online contact page