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Mitchell Wachtel D.P.M.

Hammertoes: Diagnosis and Treatment

Hammertoes are a toe deformity that can make even just wearing shoes painful and uncomfortable. Hammertoe diagnosis is fairly simple and can be done with an in-office inspection. Once you are properly diagnosed, treatment for hammertoes can begin. This is often achieved through conservative methods, but sometimes surgery is required.

What Are Hammertoes?

Hammertoes are known as such because of their resemblance to a hammer or a mallet. This condition occurs when the joint in the middle of the toe becomes dislocated. There are a number of reasons why this dislocation might happen. One of the most common reasons is simply due to ill-fitting shoes. When the toe box in a pair of shoes is too tight and narrow it does not provide room for your toes to spread, so instead they become crammed together, thereby creating unnecessary pressure on the joints. Other causes include injury or trauma to the feet, arthritis, nerve damage, high arches, and pressure on the joints due to bunions. All that is needed to diagnose this condition is a visual inspection conducted by a doctor. In the case of injury, you may need to undergo x-rays or other diagnostic tests to be sure that no further damage has been done to the surrounding tissue or muscle.

Treating an Existing Condition

Once you have ascertained that it is hammertoes you are dealing with, treatment will begin. It is usually recommended to start out by trying conservative methods first. Hammertoes come in two categories: flexible and rigid. The flexible variation is more easily treated, and it essentially means that your toe can be manipulated to lay flat. Rigid hammertoes, on the other hand, are permanently stuck in the bent position. You can use orthotics or inserts to try and situate the toe into a more natural position.

There are different toe stretches you can do to help get your toe back to normal as well. If you have corns, calluses, or blisters as a result of this condition, try to leave them intact. In more severe cases, you may have to resort to surgery. Your doctor may do this procedure by either releasing a tendon or removing bone.

Preventing Hammertoes

The best practice is to prevent this deformity from occurring in the first place. Since hammertoes are often caused or aggravated by improper shoes, you need to take great care in selecting your footwear. Make sure your shoes have a roomy toe box that allows for adequate movement. It is also best to avoid heels of any kind whenever possible as they tend to push your toes against the front of your shoes.

Another consideration is having the option to adjust your shoes when needed. Your feet can sometimes swell and, if that happens, it is important that you be able to loosen them up a bit. Getting your feet professionally fitted every time you buy new footwear is a great way to avoid any comfort issues. Your shoes should feel comfortable from the get-go (no “breaking in” period). If they don’t, then you should move on to the next pair.

How Can We Help?

If you have questions regarding hammertoe diagnoses, treatment, or prevention call Dr. Mitchell Wachtel at (978) 794-8406 to schedule an appointment in one of our three Massachusetts office locations.