Hammertoe is a common deformity caused by a chronic muscle or tendon imbalance which causes contracture of the second joint in the second, third, fourth, or fifth toe. The bend causes pain, particularly when wearing shoes. The condition may also to the development of corns or calluses on the bent toes, causing further pain.
Hammertoe worsens over time and cannot be fully corrected without surgery, but there are proactive steps you can take to slow its development, while lessening the pain or irritation. The structure of your foot can be prognostic; such as overly high or low arches — a primary cause of hammertoe.
A muscle or tendon imbalance in the foot is often the result of ill-fitting shoes, which destabilizes the natural form of the foot. High-heels and shoes with pointy toes put pressure on the front of the foot and squeeze the toes together. Shoes that are simply too tight put pressure on the front of the foot and cause the toes to bend abnormally; which is why women tend to develop hammertoe more frequently than men.
Why the RIGHT Shoe Choice Matters
Hammertoe symptoms can be either flexible or rigid. Choosing the appropriate type of shoes is critical for managing pain and slowing the progression of the toe bends. If your hammertoe is still flexible and does not give you much pain, you may simply need to opt for a different style or try correcting the shape with bands or tape. A painfully rigid hammertoe may require orthotics from your doctor.
It’s best to shop for your shoes at the end of the day because our feet tend to swell as we walk, which could lead to a wrong fitting. The following hammertoe shoe shopping tips from WebMD are great suggestions for better support:
- Look for shoes with a wide and deep toe box. There should be one-half inch of space between your longest toe and the front of the shoe.
- The ball of your foot should fit comfortably into the widest part of the shoe.
- Choose sturdy shoes that do not bend, except for in the ball of the foot where your toes bend.
- Your heel should not move within the shoe when walking. This is a sign of poorly fitting shoes.
- Use orthopedic inserts for arch support or extra cushioning around the toes.
- Bands or tape can help to correct the shape of the toe, while preventing calluses on the protuberance.
- As we age, our feet get larger so it is important to regularly measure your feet and choose shoes that fit the largest foot comfortably.
Why Podiatrists Prescribe Orthotics
A severe, rigid, or painful hammertoe condition might require specially designed shoe inserts called orthotics. Custom-made orthotics are prescribed by a podiatrist to help correct biomechanical foot issues and alleviate pain when walking.
The orthotics are made from a mold of your foot. Your podiatrist will examine the toes, take 3D pictures of each foot and observe your feet, ankles and hips to determine your walking patterns.
Can Hammertoe be Prevented?
Although footwear plays a pivotal role, genetic predisposition may make you more likely than others to develop hammertoe. Certain conditions, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis can increase your chances of their development.
As we’ve discussed, there are factors which make you more susceptible to developing hammertoe, so if you are not genetically susceptible to this condition you have a real chance to avoid ever having it develop.
Try to avoid high-heels, narrow shoes, or those which lack arch support. Only wear shoes that fit appropriately. Help your toes maintain flexibility and good circulation by stretching and massaging them regularly. Check your feet regularly for problems.
Dr. Elizabeth E. Auger knows that foot pain can be excruciating, which is why she offers same-day appointments and always welcomes new patients because she doesn’t feel you should have to wait! The faster you are diagnosed, the sooner you can experience a life without discomfort!