If you've ever looked down at your feet and noticed that one of your toes doesn’t look quite right — bent at the middle joint, creating a hammer-like appearance — you might be dealing with a hammertoe. This common foot deformity can be more than just a cosmetic concern; it can lead to discomfort and other foot problems if not addressed properly.
Dr. Eric Gilbertson, DPM, FACFAS, a double board-certified podiatrist at Renew Foot & Ankle, LLC, in Grand Rapids and Bigfork, Minnesota, offers the following four key signs that suggest you might have a hammertoe.
The shape of the toe itself is the most obvious sign of a hammertoe. The toe's middle joint bends upwards while the end of the toe turns downwards. This abnormal bend gives the toe a hammer-like or claw-like appearance. Hammertoes usually develop in the second, third, or fourth toes and can occur in one or both feet.
Initially, this bending might be flexible, and you can straighten the toe with your fingers. However, the joint can become rigid over time, making it harder to straighten the toe. This progression from a flexible to a rigid hammertoe is something to watch out for.
A hammertoe can cause pain and discomfort, especially when wearing shoes. The abnormal bend in the toe causes it to rub against the shoe, leading to irritation and sometimes the formation of corns or calluses. These hardened skin areas develop due to the constant friction and pressure from shoes. If you find yourself constantly adjusting your shoes, trying to relieve pressure on a particular toe, it’s a sign that you might have a hammertoe.
Additionally, the discomfort can be more pronounced when walking or flexing the toes. People with hammertoes often experience pain in the ball of the foot, just under the bent toe. This is due to the altered mechanics of the foot when walking.
As a hammertoe develops, you may notice a gradual decrease in the ability to move the affected toe. In the early stages of hammertoe, the joint is still flexible, and while it may be bent, you can still move it. But as the condition progresses, the tendons and ligaments in the toe tighten, and the joint becomes stiffer. Eventually, this can lead to a loss of mobility in the toe, making it difficult or even impossible to bend it at all. This stiffness can make everyday activities like walking or wearing certain types of shoes uncomfortable or painful.
Finally, one of the subtle signs of a hammertoe is a change in your walking pattern or gait. Because of the discomfort and structural changes in the foot, you might unconsciously start to walk differently to minimize pain or compensate for the imbalance caused by the bent toe. This altered gait can lead to other issues, such as foot pain, ankles, knees, hips, or back pain.
If you're experiencing any of these signs, it's essential to consult a foot and ankle specialist. Early intervention can prevent a flexible hammertoe from becoming rigid, alleviate pain, and prevent further complications. Treatment options range from conservative methods like custom orthotics and exercises to surgical procedures in more advanced cases.
Taking care of your feet is important for your overall well-being. They are your body’s foundation. Don’t let a hammertoe go unchecked; call the office or schedule an appointment online to determine the best course of action for treatment.