At any age, including adolescence, your toes can develop a deformity called hammertoes (hammer toes), which many patients refer to as looking like a claw. That’s because the middle joint of the second, third, or fourth toes bends in an upward position, creating the claw-like or hammer look. Mallet toe is a similar condition, but affects the upper joint of a toe.
Hammer toes and Mallet toes are usually not a serious condition, but can become painful as the bent joint rubs against the inside of the shoe, causing irritation, corns or calluses. Hammer toes may also cause occasional shooting pains throughout the toes or elsewhere in the foot.
Just like bunions, Hammer toes are usually the result of wearing too-tight footwear. They can also be caused by a muscle imbalance of the foot, even in children. Foot muscles work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes. If your toes are jammed inside footwear that’s too tight, or if the foot has a biomechanical defect, the muscles tighten and cannot stretch out.
How your shoes cause hammer toes
Shoes that narrow toward the toe create the illusion that your foot is smaller, but the narrow toe box forces the smaller toes into a bent upward position. This makes the toes rub against the inside of the shoe, creating corns and calluses, aggravating the toes further. Additionally, a high heel forces the foot forward and down, squeezing the toes against the front of the shoe, which increases the pressure and the bend in the toe. Eventually, the toe muscles become unable to straighten the toe, even when barefoot.
Treatment for Hammer toes
The first step in hammer toe treatment is to wear shoes that fit correctly and don’t cramp your toes. Shoes should have a nice, wide toe box that leaves room for your toes to move-if you can’t wiggle your toes in them, don’t wear them. I would also recommend a period of physical therapy with stretching exercises to make the toe muscles more flexible. Over the counter toe straps, cushions or corn pads are available which may also provide relief. If these treatments don’t produce results, custom orthotic inserts can be created. If that still doesn’t provide enough relief, there are surgical procedures which can release the muscles in the affected toes.
If you discover changes in your foot that don’t appear normal, call PA Foot and Ankle Associates for a thorough diagnostic exam. We’ll create a custom treatment plan for you and closely monitor your progress until your condition is relieved.