When any flexible object gets stuck in a bent or contracted position, it isn’t able to do its job correctly. Imagine a door that has a spring to help pull it closed after you let go of the handle. If the spring rusts and stiffens over time, it isn’t able to stretch out as well to allow the door to open, limiting its effectiveness. Tendons and muscles in your body can tighten and lose efficiency and balance as well, resulting in conditions like hammertoes.
Imbalance in the Stabilizers
You have sets of muscles and connective tissues that keep your toes straight. These pairs are opposites—some pull down, toward the bottom of the foot, while others counterbalance them by pulling up. This allows your toes to stay straight when they are in a neutral position and move around when you need to move them. Sometimes, however, the tissues can become imbalanced. One side can grow tightened and stiff, forcing the toe into a bent position. When the middle joint of your small toes is affected, you develop hammertoes.
Different problems can cause the imbalance. Trauma to the foot, preexisting conditions, and overuse can all result in tightening of tendons under your toes. Shoes that squeeze the toes or put abnormal pressure on the ball of the foot, like high heels, can also encourage an imbalance. The bent toes frequently rub uncomfortably against your footwear, making it difficult to wear shoes. Corns and calluses may develop. Participating in normal activities can also become challenging and painful. Depending on how far the problem has advanced, hammertoes can be flexible or rigid. Flexible ones can be straightened out by hand and are easier to treat with conservative remedies. Rigid digits are stuck in the bent position. They may need more involved treatments to correct the condition.
Accommodating and Correcting Hammertoes
Addressing the problem right away is your best chance for correcting it and eliminating your pain. You’ll need to have the condition evaluated to determine its progression and help you develop a plan for recovery. Our foot doctors here at Martin Foot and Ankle will examine your lower limbs and use diagnostic tests and possibly images to determine the cause of your tissue imbalance. Then we’ll present you with your options for recovery.
Changing your shoes to accommodate the problem is an important part of treating it. You’ll need to choose footwear that doesn’t squeeze the toes or put too much pressure on the ball of your foot. It will need to be deep enough and wide enough that the affected toes aren’t rubbing the tops or sides of the shoes, too. You may still need special pads to protect the toe from friction and prevent corns. Orthotics can help stabilize the foot and add extra cushioning. Physical therapy works to counteract the imbalance by stretching out tightened tissues and strengthening the weakened ones. Rigid hammertoes may need to use special splints or straps. If conservative measures are not able to eliminate your pain and restore your toes, you may need surgery to release the tightened tendons.
Hammertoes are uncomfortable and can make it challenging to wear shoes or participate in some of your normal activities. You don’t have to resign yourself to painfully bent digits, though. Address the condition before it has a chance to progress too far or risk becoming permanent. Contact Martin Foot and Ankle in Hanover, Lancaster, Lititz, and York, PA, for an appointment. Fill out the online contact form or call (717) 757-3537 to reach us.