A hammertoe is a physical deformity of the toe. It is not the kind of deformity one has at birth, though, but it is something that develops over time. Hammertoes are the direct result of an imbalance in the muscles and other supportive tissue of that toe. Their job is to keep the toe straight, but certain life factors can interfere, such as tight shoes. When that happens, the toe bends abnormally right at the middle joint causing it to resemble a hammer.
They are very similar. They both result from the same core problem, but mallet toes involve the joint nearest to the toenail. Both hammertoes and mallet toes traditionally affect the second, third, or fourth digits, so all toes but the big and little ones are at risk.
Ultimately, footwear is the prevailing issue for people who develop both hammertoes and mallet toes. Certain shoes like high heels, for example, box the toes in forcing them to curl unnaturally. This can happen if the shoes are too tight, as well. There are other risk factors to consider, though, including:
A person with arthritis or diabetes may be more prone to hammertoes. Heredity also seems to play a role as they tend to run in families.
Not always, but if they’re left untreated, they can lead to complications that do hurt. A person with a hammertoe or mallet toe might notice pain when trying to move the affected toe or if there is pressure on it from a shoe. Hammertoes can result in painful corns and calluses, though, as the toe rubs inside the shoe because of its unnatural shape. Over time, hammertoes can lead to more complex issues, too, especially for patients who have or will develop a chronic disease that affects healing, like diabetes.
The podiatrists at Glenoaks Podiatry Group will evaluate the toe to see if it is still flexible. They will go over lifestyle changes with the patient to improve the toe’s health like wearing roomier shoes or finding ways to relieve the pressure on the foot. They may also recommend specific exercises to strengthen the toes. In some cases, surgery is the only answer to fixing a hammertoe.
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