Hammer Toes

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Hammer ToeOverview

Hammer toes is most common in women, and a big part of this is poor shoe choices, which are a big factor in the development of many foot problems. Tight toe boxes and high heels are the biggest culprits. Genetics certainly plays a role in some cases of hammertoes, as does trauma, infection, arthritis, and certain neurological and muscle disorders. Most cases of contracted toes are associated with various biomechanical abnormalities in how a patient walks. This causes the muscles and tendons to be used excessively or improperly, which deforms the toes over time.

Causes

Risk factors for hammertoe include heredity, a second toe that is longer than the first (Morton foot), high arches or flat feet, injury in which the toe was jammed, rheumatoid arthritis, and, in diabetics, abnormal foot mechanics resulting from muscle and nerve damage. Hammertoe may be precipitated by advancing age, weakness of small muscles in the foot (foot intrinsic muscles), and the wearing of shoes that crowd the toes (too tight, too short, or with heels that are too high). The condition is more common in females than in males.

HammertoeSymptoms

A toe (usually the second digit, next to the big toe) bent at the middle joint and clenched into a painful, clawlike position. As the toe points downward, the middle joint may protrude upward. A toe with an end joint that curls under itself. Painful calluses or corns. Redness or a painful corn on top of the bent joint or at the tip of the affected toe, because of persistent rubbing against shoes Pain in the toes that interferes with walking, jogging, dancing, and other normal activities, possibly leading to gait changes.

Diagnosis

The exam may reveal a toe in which the near bone of the toe (proximal phalanx) is angled upward and the middle bone of the toe points in the opposite direction (plantar flexed). Toes may appear crooked or rotated. The involved joint may be painful when moved, or stiff. There may be areas of thickened skin (corns or calluses) on top of or between the toes, a callus may also be observed at the tip of the affected toe beneath the toenail. An attempt to passively correct the deformity will help elucidate the best treatment option as the examiner determines whether the toe is still flexible or not. It is advisable to assess palpable pulses, since their presence is associated with a good prognosis for healing after surgery. X-rays will demonstrate the contractures of the involved joints, as well as possible arthritic changes and bone enlargements (exostoses, spurs). X-rays of the involved foot are usually performed in a weight-bearing position.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treating hammertoe involves straightening the toe, making tendons in the toes flexible again, and preventing the problem from returning. Some simple treatments include Soaking your feet every day in warm water, then stretching your toes and ankles by pointing your toes. Using over-the-counter pads, cushions or straps to decrease discomfort. Splinting the toe to keep it straight and to stretch the tendons of the foot. Exercising the toes to relax the foot tendons (a session with a physical therapist may help you get started with foot exercises). One simple exercise is to hammertoe place a small towel on the floor and then pick it up using only your toes. You also can grasp at carpet with your toes or curl your toes up and down repeatedly. Wearing shoes that fit properly and give toes plenty of room to stretch out.

Surgical Treatment

Laser surgery is popular for cosmetic procedures, however, for hammer toe surgery it does not offer any advantage to traditional methods. Laser is useful for soft tissues (not bone), and because hammer toe surgery involves bone procedures, it is not effective. For cosmetic hammer toe surgery, patients should look for surgeons experienced in aesthetic foot surgery.

HammertoePrevention

The easiest way to avoid hammertoe is to wear shoes that fit properly. Orthopaedic surgeons and podiatrists recommend shoes that have roomy toe boxes, which give the toes plenty of space to flex. Shoes that fit well should also cushion the arch in the middle of the foot. This helps to distribute the weight of the body evenly across the bones and joints of the foot. The size and shape of a foot can change with age, and many people inadvertently wear the wrong size shoe. Podiatrists recommend having your feet measured regularly to ensure that your shoes fit properly.

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