You can blame hammertoe on any of several possible culprits, from genetics to chronic disease and from trauma to unfortunate shoe choices, but there are only a few ways to treat it.
Here to discuss your options, Dr. Daniel Preece and Dr. Darren Groberg, our podiatrists at Utah Musculoskeletal Specialists in Salt Lake City, Utah, offer their best tips for relieving the discomfort and inconvenience of hammertoe.
Who gets hammertoe?
To understand which treatment will work best for your hammertoe, you need to know why you have it.
The most common risk factors include:
- Being a woman
- Having a second toe that’s longer than your big toe
- A family history of hammertoe
If one or more of these factors apply to you, you’re more susceptible to the joint contracture that bends your toe involuntarily. If the muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments in your toe are not well-balanced, they contract and bend your toe. Over time, they may retain the bent position.
In addition to the risk factors we mentioned, one of the most common causes of hammertoe is an ill-fitting shoe. If your shoes are too narrow or too high, they may cram your toes into a bent position. To make matters worse, that tight environment causes rubbing and friction that lead to corns, calluses, and bunions, each of which exacerbate hammertoe.
Straightening out your hammertoe
If your hammertoe is related to a chronic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, you may be able to reduce your hammertoe symptoms by keeping your health condition well-controlled.
Meanwhile, there are ways to ease your hammertoe symptoms and even correct it anatomically.
Here are five ways to approach hammertoes.
1. Choose the right shoes
Since poorly fitted shoes are the number one hammertoe culprit, the first and simplest course of action is to get rid of all the shoes that cause your feet harm and replace them with styles that promote healing and prevent further damage.
Here’s what to look for in a hammertoe-healing shoe:
- Wide toe box
- Room to wiggle your toes
- Low heels
- Flexible material
- Proper arch support
- No rubbing or slipping
Whether you have diabetes or not, shoes designated as diabetes shoes are a good option for you.
2. Wear the right socks
The more protection your toes have, the better their chance of recovering from hammertoe contractures. Some shoes have good shock-absorbing qualities, but don’t stop there. Add more padding by wearing soft, cushiony socks — in fact, double up for maximum protection and comfort.
3. Get custom orthotics
You may have seen a display of shoe inserts at your local drug store. While those generic pads may give you a bit of extra cushion, they don’t compare to custom orthotics that mold perfectly to the unique contours of your feet. Drs. Groberg and Preece can fit you for tailor-made orthotics that ensure your feet and your hammertoe have proper support and protection.
Bracing may also help straighten stubborn hammertoes and also protect them from damage.
4. Exercise your toes
Since hammertoes are primarily a problem with the muscles in your toe, strengthening them can help relieve the tension and allow them to straighten out again.
We can give you some specific exercises you can do at home, including towel toe curls. Place a small towel on the floor in front of you as you’re seated in a chair. Put your toes on the towel edge nearest you, and scrunch the fabric and release it to pull the towel toward you. Repeat the exercise five times with each foot.
5. Have surgery
If these conservative approaches don’t solve the problem and the joint is too rigid and immobile, we may recommend surgical intervention to lengthen the tendon, transfer a tendon from the bottom of your toe, or remove a small portion of the bone and fuse your joint.
If you have a hammertoe, start relieving the pain and stiffness now by following our tips above. But if you can’t get enough relief, schedule an appointment at Utah Musculoskeletal Specialists. Our friendly staff is here to take your call, or you can request an appointment online.