Many of us have heard the term “hammertoe”, but what is it?
The most common reason for hammertoes is due to an excessive amount of “pronation” (i.e., “flat-footing”) that occurs during walking (“gait cycle”).
It is normal for your foot to get a little flat when you walk. It should then recover later on in the gait cycle.
But when factors combine to cause your foot to stay flat for too long while walking then changes happen that result in hammertoes.
Many imbalances happen such as in the ligaments and muscles at the base of the toe joint (among many others; it’s complicated!) which can cause the middle toe bone to rise up out of its normal position.
This raised up, bent, toe can become painful when the toe rubs against the inside of shoes. It can also become aesthetically unpleasing.
All this leads to difficulty walking and wearing certain footwear.
What kinds of hammer toes are there?
There are a few different varieties of hammer toes which can appear on the feet.
Fortunately they can easily be treated if diagnosed early.
There are flexible hammer toes which can be manually straightened out but they then resume their bent shape when you let go of the toe. This is an early stage and therefore easier to treat.
Custom-made arch supports (“orthotics”) are made from plaster molds taken of your feet. They are always made in pairs. The molds are done while the podiatrist holds your foot in its “neutral” position. X-rays are also taken and from these and the podiatrist’s examination a laboratory will made a custom-fitted device. This device will replace the factory insert in your shoes or sneakers.
Rigid hammer toes are different in that they cannot be manually straightened out. The toe is permanently deformed and the bones inside the toe actually change their shape as the result of forces they experience from a long-standing deformity. Orthotics can sometimes help with these kinds of hammertoes and would be one method of treatment however surgery may become the only choice of treatment if conservative methods are not working to relieve your symptoms.
What Causes Hammer Toes?
Our toes are held in place by a wonderful balancing act of joint structures, ligaments, tendons, muscles and more working together. They all have to work in harmony and balance to have a toe that is able to do its jobs of stabilization, propulsion, balance, sensation and more.
When the balance between all these structures changes, a hammertoe can develop.
There is a huge amount of pressure put on the toe joints with each and every step we take, of everyday, especially in those of us who walk or run more than others.
High heeled shoes or narrow footwear can cause us to suffer from hammertoe development due to the way the foot mechanics change while wearing high heels or the very narrow space allowed for toes in some fashionable shoes or high heels.
Genetics play a highly significant role.
It is likely that those who have hammertoes occurring in their family, especially in either parent, are more likely to develop some form of hammertoes in their life. Children are not immune to developing hammertoes. Sometimes hammertoes develop early in a child’s or adolescent’s life.
Injuries to the foot can cause hammertoe to develop when the normal balance between bones, ligaments and tendons are put out of balance as the result of the injury. Broken bones of the toes, feet, ankle, leg and entire lower extremity can result in hammertoes developing months or years after the initial injury even with proper treatment done at the time of the injury because there are some damages that can occur where even though things heal, they heal with weakness, deformity, or some kind of imbalance in how the toe functions resulting in hammertoes.
Arthritis sufferers also know too well the damaging effects of their disease.
Diabetics are prone to developing hammertoes due to diabetes’ damage to a diabetics nervous system which then leads to imbalance as noted above.
The list of causes to hammertoes is long.
This has been an attempt to provide an introduction to the causes of hammertoes.
Contact your podiatrist if you suspect, suffer from, or know of someone who has hammertoes.
If you suffer from pain in the feet, corn formation, swelling, dislocation, have have had an injury, or any foot problem at all, it is best to contact a podiatrist for a thorough evaluation.
Early detection is the key to a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Call FAMILY FOOT CENTER located in the Whitestone Village of North Queens/Flushing New York at 917-563-4193 to make your appointment TODAY!
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