A hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toe causing it to be permanently bent at the proximal interphalangeal joint, resembling a hammer. Mallet toe is another name for this condition when affecting the distal interphalangeal joint.
The most common cause of hammertoe is a muscle/tendon imbalance. This imbalance, which leads to a bending of the toe, results from mechanical (structural) changes in the foot that occur over time in some people.Hammer toe most often results from wearing poorly-fit shoes that can force the toe against their tip, such as excessively high heels or shoes that are too short or narrow for the foot. This can lead to subluxation of the metatarsal phalangeal joints and formation of a hammer toe, often found in conjunction with bunions or other foot problems. In some people, hammertoes are inherited.
There are a variety of treatment options for hammertoe. A number of non-surgical measures can be undertaken: special pads and orthotics are made to protect the toes and even to correct the deformity. Usually problems arise from painful calluses and corns forming around the deformities. When someone has an abnormal toe, it tends to rub on footwear and cause problems. Protecting these problem areas with pads will often control the symptoms.
In some cases, usually when the hammertoe has become more rigid, surgery is needed to relieve the pain and discomfort caused by the deformity.
It is possible that a patient may require other procedures, as well—especially when the hammertoe condition is severe. Some of these procedures include skin wedging, tendon/muscle rebalancing or lengthening, small tendon transfers, or relocation of surrounding joints.
Often patients with hammertoe have bunions or other foot deformities corrected at the same time. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.