Understanding Hammertoes - the Basics
What Are Hammertoes?
Is one of your toes pointing down instead of out? Does it make an upside-down "V" at the first joint? Ouch. You've got a hammertoe.
It can happen to any toe, but usually it's not the big toe. It's particularly likely to affect any toe that's longer than the big toe.
Women are more likely to get hammertoes than men.
Hammertoes can be a serious problem in people with diabetes or poor circulation. People with these conditions should see a doctor at the first sign of foot trouble.
There are two types of hammertoes:
- Flexible hammertoes. If the toe still can be moved at the joint, it's a flexible hammertoe. That's good, because this is an earlier, less-severe form of the problem. There may be several treatment options.
- Rigid hammertoes. If the tendons in the toe become rigid, they press the joint out of alignment. At this stage, the toe can't be moved. It usually means surgery.
What Causes It?
The muscles of each toe work in pairs. When the toe muscles get out of balance, a hammertoe can form. Muscle imbalance puts a lot of pressure on the toe's tendons and joints. This pressure forces the toe into a hammerhead shape.
How do the toe muscles get out of balance?
There are three main reasons:
- Your genes: You may have inherited a tendency to develop hammertoes.
- Injury to the toe: Ill-fitting shoes are the main culprits. If shoes are too tight, too short, or too pointy, they push the toes out of balance. Pointy, high-heeled shoes put particularly severe pressure on the toes.