I admit it. I have one, and quite frankly, I hate it. It looks funny. It is painful when I wear certain shoes--the challenge is just putting on a pair of shoes because it sticks up abnormally, and I have to push the toe down to get my foot into the shoe. From a fashion standpoint, depending upon the type of shoes I am wearing, you can see where it sticks up underneath the fabric of the shoe. What is this foot deformity about which I speak? It is a hammer toe, also referred to as a claw toe. (I prefer hammer toe. Claw toe sounds too evil or something!)
In short, a hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toe. The toe becomes bent at the middle joint, resembling a hammer. At the onset, a hammer toe is quite flexible and can be treated by a variety of means. However, if left untreated, it can become stuck in that position and require surgical intervention to repair it. For those who have this condition, finding comfortable shoes is a dilemma. Don’t even think about wearing any of those fun, fashion-forward shoes. They rarely work, and they hurt like a son-of-a-gun when you do wear them.
Hammer toes are usually sustained when you wear ill-fitting shoes or suffer from a muscle imbalance, usually in combination with one or more other factors. The muscles work in tandem to straighten and bend the toes. If a toe becomes bent and stuck in one position for an appreciable amount of time, the muscles will tighten and cannot stretch out.
Shoes that are narrow at the tip will push the smaller toes into a bent position. The toes will rub against the shoe, which can then cause calluses and corns, only serving to aggravate the condition. A high heel forces the foot down, squishing the toes against the inside of the shoe, thereby increasing the pressure and the bend in the toe. What soon happens is the toe muscles are unable to straighten out the toe, even when there is no shoe to confine it. (All one has to do is look at my foot to see the truth in that!)
As for treatment, a conservative approach is to opt for new shoes that have soft, roomy toe boxes. No, you don’t have to root around in Grandma’s closet, but those glitzy high heels will probably have to go. The shoes you wear should be one-half inch longer than your longest toe. If you are lucky enough, you might find a shoe with a deep toe box that will accommodate the hammer toe. That being said, do you really want to wear combat boots to work? I have heard that some shoe repair shops might be able to stretch the toe box so that it bulges out around the toe. For some reason, however, that does not necessarily scream “cute shoes” to me! Sandals are great, provided they do not pinch or rub other areas of the foot. However, in wearing sandals, everyone can see that deformed toe! What is a girl to do?
A doctor can prescribe certain toe exercises that you can do at home to stretch and strengthen the toe muscles. You can gently stretch your toes manually or use your toes to pick things up off the floor, like all of those socks and pieces of trash your three teenage sons continually leave on the floor. When you are reading or watching TV, you can place a towel under your feet and use your toes to crumple it up.
My podiatrist provided a cushion for me to wear, which helped a bit, but I have to admit, it was uncomfortable for me to wear the cushion. So, I guess it is a toss up between the discomfort of the cushion or of discomfort of the hammer toe. (I will note that it is rather awkward to wear the cushion while barefoot. I don’t think it was intended to wear under such conditions!)
If the above-referenced conservative measures fail, surgery can be performed to correct it. This is done on an out-patient basis, and you will have to baby that particular foot for awhile. Just be forewarned, however, that if you do opt for the surgery, don’t find yourself in a position a year later when you are in a hurry to be somewhere, rushing about your bathroom barefooted, and then you slip and fall on a puddle of water, sliding across the floor and jamming that particular foot right into the baseboard, breaking that one toe that your doctor surgically repaired a year earlier. True story. Now, if this hammer toe of mine can pound some nails, at least I can put it to good use. (I decided not to have the surgery again.)
(Information for this article was found at http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00160)