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What Is a Hammertoe and What to Look Out For

Your feet are a vital part of you getting around, so when something causes pain, it makes your life difficult. Hammertoes are one such painful — and common — problem.

At Phoenix Foot and Ankle Institute, our team members are experts in many different ailments of your feet and ankles. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey McAlister, helps you figure out if a hammertoe is causing your symptoms. He also helps you get the treatment you need to keep moving.

Symptoms of a hammertoe

Normally, your toes are straight and only bend when you want them to. When you have a hammertoe, however, your affected toes are bent downward instead of being straight, and you’re unable to straighten the toe.

It’s possible to have a hammertoe when you’re born, but it’s more likely for you to develop this condition over a period of months to years. Any toe on your foot can be affected by this problem, but your second and third toes are affected more often than others.

One of the main signs of a hammertoe is the toe being bent forward, but you also may have pain when you attempt to straighten the affected digit. There are other symptoms that you can look out for as well, including:

You can also feel a burning-like sensation in your toes, or pain in or around the ball of your foot. Your symptoms can range anywhere from mild to severe, depending on what stage your hammertoe is in. There are three different types of this condition: flexible, semi-rigid, and rigid. Flexible hammer toes are still able to move, whereas rigid hammertoes are completely stiff. 

Hammertoes are similar to other conditions that affect your toes, such as claw toes and mallet toes, but there are some key differences. Hammertoes affect the second joint in your toe, whereas mallet toes affect the third joint, and claw toes affect the first.

What causes this condition?

So why do you get a hammertoe? Usually, it’s due either to shoes that don’t fit correctly or conditions such as arthritis. But there are some other reasons, too, including:

You may also fall victim to a hammertoe if your tendons are abnormally tight in the affected foot. Women are much more likely to get this condition, due to wearing tight-fitting shoes like high heels. These shoes put pressure on your toes, which forces them to bend, leading to a hammertoe over time.

There are other risk factors for developing this condition. For example, your risk of developing a hammertoe increases as you get older. This is especially true when you have flat feet or very high arches. 

Another risk factor has to do with the length of your second toe. When your second toe is longer than your first toe, you’re at a much higher risk of deformity, and ultimately, a hammertoe. Unfortunately, genetics plays a role in this factor. 

Conditions like diabetes also put you at a disadvantage when it comes to hammertoes. Strokes and arthritis are other problems that lead to issues with your feet. However, hammertoes are often able to be treated, so they’re really just a small bump in the road.

Hammertoe treatment

In most cases, hammertoes are completely treatable. The type of treatment that Dr. McAlister recommends is dependent on the severity of your condition and how it affects your daily activities. When your hammertoe is mild, there are home treatments that help you decrease your symptoms. These treatments include:

Sometimes, Dr. McAlister recommends steroid injections to help relieve some of the symptoms of a mild hammertoe. However, if your toe is already rigid, Dr. McAlister recommends surgical intervention to relieve the pain of the problem toe.

The goals of surgery are to remove any damaged bone and realign your tendons to achieve a normal, straight toe again. Dr. McAlister performs several different types of surgery to get rid of your hammertoe for good.

Don’t continue to suffer from the pain of a hammertoe. Call either of our convenient locations at 602-761-7819 to schedule a consultation with Dr. McAlister, or book an appointment online with us today.

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