Hammertoes usually start out as mild deformities and get progressively worse over time. In the earlier stages, hammertoes are flexible and the symptoms can often be managed with changes in shoe styles and foot care products. But if left untreated, hammertoes can become more rigid and painful. Corns are more likely to develop as time goes on-and corns never really go away, even after trimming. In more severe cases of hammertoe, corn lesions may evolve into severe ulcerations. These lesions frequently occur in patients who have vascular disease or are Diabetic with neuropathy. The ulcerations can extend to the bone and result in infection and possible loss of digit or amputation.
Many disorders can affect the joints in the toes, causing pain and preventing the foot from functioning as it should. A mallet toe occurs when the joint at the end of the toe cannot straighten. Excessive rubbing of the mallet toe against the top of the shoe can lead to pain and the development of a corn. The tip of the toe is often turned down against the shoe causing pressure and discomfort. Arthritis can also lead to many forefoot deformities including mallet toes. Mallet toes can cause extreme discomfort, and can be aggravated if restrictive or improperly fitting footwear is worn for a hammertoes prolonged period of time.
A hammertoe may be present but not always painful unless irritated by shoes. One may have enlarged toe joints with some thickened skin and no redness or swelling. However, if shoes create pressure on the joint, the pain will usually range from pinching and squeezing to sharp and burning. In long standing conditions, the dislocated joints can cause the pain of arthritis.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
Early on, when a hammertoe first starts and is still flexible, here are some ways it might be treated. Your healthcare provider may splint or tape the toe into the correct, normal position. You can use your fingers to stretch your toes and toe joints toward a more normal position. Exercise your toes by trying to pick up marbles with them or by wadding up a towel on the floor with your toes. Padding may be used to change where your weight falls when you walk on the foot.
If this fails or if treatment is not sought until the toes are permanently misaligned, then surgery may be required. Surgery may involve either cutting the tendon or fusing the joint. Congenital conditions should be treated in early childhood with manipulations and splinting.
Wear thick-soled shoes if you walk on hard surfaces on a regular basis. Wear shoes with low heels. Have your feet checked regularly by a podiatrist to ensure that no deformities or conditions are developing. Do stretching exercises daily to strengthen the muscles in your feet.