At Superior Foot & Ankle Care Center we often find that patients have no trouble identifying a hammertoe—its telltale downward bent at the joint makes it fairly obvious—but often that’s where the knowledge stops. Too often patients suffer for a long time with a hammertoe because they do not fully understand the condition and their treatment options. Below some common myths about hammertoes are dispelled to help patients be more informed about this condition:
MYTH: Hammertoes are caused by shoes that are too tight.
TRUTH: It’s true that improperly fitting shoes can contribute to or exacerbate the condition of hammertoe but usually a muscle/tendon imbalance predisposes the toe to bend downward. In some cases, one toe is longer than the others and pushes up against the front of the shoe. Hammertoe can also be genetic, the result of arthritis or a neurological or structural issue.
MYTH: It’s possible that over time hammertoes will get better without treatment.
TRUTH: Hammertoes are a progressive condition. Although they may progress at varying rates they will not improve and will, in fact, worsen to the point of being disabling if not treated. It’s important to have one of our podiatrists, Dr. Victoria Foley and Dr. Constance Omelas examine your hammertoe to assess how far it has progressed. The foot doctor may order x-rays to get a better look at the current state of the joint and will also want to get a complete medical history. Hammertoes should be monitored by the podiatrist.
MYTH: There’s no real treatment for hammertoes.
TRUTH: Actually there are several conservative options available to the foot doctor to help decrease pain, increase comfort and slow the progression of a hammertoe. These include: strapping or taping the toe to establish realignment, using a custom orthotic device to correct or compensate for a muscle tendon imbalance and doing stretching and other exercises to increase flexibility and strengthen supporting muscles. In addition, patients should choose shoes with low heels that have roomy toe boxes and are made of soft materials to avoid further stress to the toe and irritations such as corns, calluses, and ulcers from developing. If none of these treatments are successful or there are other deformities such as bunions in addition to the hammertoe the foot doctor may recommend surgery to correct the problem.