A hammer toe is a toe that is contracted at the proximal interphalangeal joint (middle joint in the toe), potentially leading to severe pressure and pain. Tightened ligaments and tendons cause the toe’s joints to curl downwards. Hammer toes may occur in any toe. There is often discomfort at the top part of the toe due to rubbing against the shoe.
There are two types – flexible and rigid. In a flexible hammer toe, the joint has the ability to move. This type of hammer toe can be straightened manually or with custom made orthotics. A rigid hammer toe does not have that same ability to move. Movement is very limited and can be extremely painful. This sometimes causes foot movement to become restricted leading to extra stress at the ball of the foot, and possibly causing pain and the development of corns and calluses on top of the toe or at the ball of the foot.
Several factors are known to increase the risk of developing hammer toes. Some people are just structurally prone to develop hammer toes (hereditary), tight footwear is an important factor in the cause of hammer toes as well as providing the pressure that causes the symptoms. Weaker small muscles in the foot may also play a role. Hammer toes result from a muscle imbalance which causes the ligaments and tendons to become unnaturally tight. This results in the joint curling downward or upward. Arthritis can also lead to many different forefoot deformities, including hammer toes.
Surgery to correct for a hammertoe may be performed as a day procedure. There are several types of procedures that can be used depending on the foot structure and the flexibility of the deformity .