What Are Hammertoes and How Can You Prevent Them?

We get it – you enjoy wearing high-heeled shoes whenever you can. In fact, your closet may be filled with nothing but cute, fashionable shoes with tight toe boxes. But who cares as long as you look good – pain is beauty, right? Before you try to stuff your feet into a few-sizes-too-small shoe with virtually zero support, be aware that this habit can begin changing your feet, and not for the better. Exhibit A: hammertoes.

What Are Hammertoes?

This common podiatric deformity is a contracture of the middle joint in the toe (often the 2nd through 5th digits), which forces the toe to bend downward as opposed to lying flat. When viewed at the side, the toe appears as an upside-down “v.” It’s a sneaky deformity since it appears gradually – you may not even notice it until it’s too late. Hammertoes are also more commonly found in females than males.

Wait, There Are Two Types of Hammertoes?

Yes! There are both flexible hammertoes and rigid hammertoes. Initially, hammertoes are flexible, but if they’re left untreated, they can become rigid and difficult to treat. If you aren’t able to straighten your affected toe, then you more than likely have a rigid hammertoe. The key is catching hammertoes when they’re still flexible, if at all possible, since they can be treated with simple measures in the earlier stage.

What Causes Hammertoes?

Maybe you’re born with it – maybe it’s how you treat your feet. Either way, there are several factors that can cause hammertoes, including the following:

  • Genetics – Being born with a particular foot type predisposes you to developing joint deformities in time. If you have flat feet, high arches, or particularly flexible feet, you may wind up with hammertoes later on in life.
  • Your shoe choice – If you often wear ill-fitting shoes with narrow toe boxes and little to no arch support, you may eventually experience hammertoes.
  • Certain underlying medical conditions – Arthritis, neuromuscular diseases, tendon imbalances, bunions, and even trauma to the toes can also cause hammertoes.

So I Have a Hammertoe – How Can I Treat It?

While there is no cure for hammertoes, there are plenty of ways you can treat them at home to help ease any pain or discomfort you may be feeling:

  • Apply a commercial, non-medicated hammertoe pad around the affected area. This will help decrease pressure around the area.
  • Choose supportive, roomy shoes with a deep toe box to give your toes more wiggle room.
  • If your hammertoe becomes inflamed, ice packs can help reduce the swelling. Remember to wrap the ice pack in cloth before applying it to your toe!
  • Custom orthotics from your podiatrist may also help reduce symptoms and prevent your hammertoe from worsening.

If these measures don’t relieve your pain, surgery may be needed to help correct the problem.

How Can I Prevent Hammertoes from Happening in the First Place?

Wearing the right shoes and taking good care of your feet are often enough to help you prevent or delay the formation of hammertoes. Here are a few things that you can do now to keep your toes healthy and functional:

  • Choose supportive shoes that fit you well. We suggest shoe shopping at the end of the day since the feet often swell a bit. This will help you find the best fit for your foot.
  • Avoid wearing shoes with a narrow or pointy toe box or a high heel.
  • Wear orthotics as prescribed by your podiatrist.
  • Try foot exercises! Every once in a while, tune into your feet and try curling and extending your toes. This will help keep your muscles strong and your toes supple.
  • Pay special attention to your feet. If you notice pain or anything out of the norm, call your podiatrist for an appointment.

If you’re experiencing hammertoes, don’t wait. Give your hardworking feet the love and respect they deserve by making an appointment with the knowledgeable doctors at The Foot & Ankle Center! Call us today at (314) 487-9300 to schedule an appointment, or request one at your convenience online!