Hammertoes: Tapping out a Painful Melody

James W. Rust
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Hammers are useful tools, and the word has developed into an idiom for describing all types of things: you can hammer a ball hard into the net, hammer out a compromise, even hammer out a tune on an old piano. If your toes are bent up at the joint—called hammertoes—the tune they hammer out can be very painful.

A Symphony of Causes

How does this toe deformity happen? Sometimes it is inherited and shows up on its own. A trauma to the toe can cause nerve or muscle damage as well. Problems with your nerves or spinal cord can lead to these bent up toes. Even the shoes you wear can make them more likely to occur.

The common theme throughout this symphony is muscle imbalance. For one reason or another, the muscles under your toe are pulled too tightly—curling it down—and those on top are not strong enough to reverse the action and pull hammertoes straight again.

A Crescendo of Pain

When the toe is bent up at the middle, it rubs against your shoes. The bump can form a corn—a circle of built-up, dead skin that burrows into the tender tissues underneath and causes pain. These tissues can also turn hot and red if inflammation sets in, causing a burning sensation in your toe.

The joint where the toe meets the foot is pressed down farther into the shoe, too, and calluses can form at that spot. This increases the pressure and soreness on the tissues inside the foot. Sometimes it even causes an open sore that opens the foot to infection. If you don’t treat this condition, the discomfort builds and builds until you can hardly bear to wear shoes or walk in them.

Resolving the Dissonance of Hammertoe Pain

What do you do to calm things down? You can start by offloading the pressure on the sore spots with moleskin or donut-shaped pads you can find at any pharmacy. (Don’t use the medicated type without consulting us first.)

Next, take a look at your shoes. Don’t wear any that are pointed or have heels over 2 inches. These can cramp your toes and aggravate the problem. Sometimes buying a slightly larger size and inserting a foam insole can help your sore toes. If your pain continues, or your toe is so rigid that you can’t even put it straight by hand, it’s time to schedule a visit at Atlantic Foot & Ankle Associates to get help.

Letting the Maestros Help

Our podiatric experts have seen many a painful hammertoe, and they are dedicated to helping you find relief from your symptoms. There are a variety of things we can try, from splinting or taping the toes and prescribing appropriate pain relievers, to injections and orthotic devices. The latter are often helpful in addressing the muscle imbalance that causes hammertoes in the first place. We can even design exercises to help strengthen and limber up the muscles in the toes.

Even if your case is extreme, we may be able to relieve your symptoms with a surgical procedure. It may involve cutting and repositioning tendons and ligaments, but we will explain the process and the results thoroughly and make sure you are comfortable deciding to go ahead.

Give one of our Atlantic Foot & Ankle Associates offices in east Florida a call, or book an appointment online. Our staff will be happy to help. You can reach us at the numbers below.