Monday, May 6, 2013

Hammer Toes

Hammertoes occur when the smaller toes of the foot become bent and prominent. The four smaller toes of the foot are much like the same fingers in the hand. Each has three bones (phalanges) which have joints between them (interphalangeal joints). The toes form a joint with the long bones of the foot (metatarsals) and it is this area that is often referred to as the ball of the foot.
Normally, these bones and joints are straight. A hammertoe occurs when the toes become bent at the first interphalangeal joint, making the toe prominent. This can affect any number of the lesser toes. In some cases, a bursa (rather like a deep blister) is formed over the joint and this can become inflamed (bursitis). With time, hard skin (callous) or corns (condensed areas of callous) can form over the joints or at the tip of the toe.

What causes hammertoes?
There are many different causes but commonly it is due to shoes or the way in which the foot works (functions) during walking. If the foot is too mobile and / or the tendons that control toe movement are over active, this causes increased pull on the toes which may result in deformity.
In some instances trauma (either direct injury or overuse from walking or sport) can predispose to hammertoes. Patients who have other conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and neuromuscular conditions are more likely to develop hammertoes.

Are women more likely to get the problem?
It is more common in women as they tend to wear tighter, narrower shoes with increased heel height. These shoes place a lot of pressure onto the joint and predispose to deformity. It is common for patients to wear shoes that are too small and this can predispose to the problem. In a study we have performed, 95% of patients were in the wrong size shoes.

Will it get worse?
At the start of the deformity, it is generally mobile which means that the toe can be straightened. However, with time, the joint become fixed or rigid. This can then affect the joint at the ball of the foot and, in severe cases, the joint capsule ruptures (tears) so that the joint becomes dislocated and the toe sits up in the air.

What are the common symptoms?
Deformity / prominence of toe
Redness around the joints
Swelling around the joints
Corn / Callous
Difficulty in shoes with deformity of the shoe upper
Difficulty in walking
Stiffness in the joints of the toe

How is it identified?

Clinical examination and a detailed history allow diagnosis. X-rays are often not required but can help to evaluate the extent of the deformity and the degree of arthritis within the joint.

What can I do to reduce the pain?
There are several things that you can do to try and relieve your symptoms:
Wear good fitting shoes with a deep toe box
Avoid high heels
Use a toe prop to straighten the toe if it is still mobile
Wear a protective pad over the toe
See a doctor at the Family Foot and Leg Center.

What can we as a specialist do to correct or reduce your symptoms?
If simple measures do not reduce your symptoms, there are other options:
Advise appropriate shoes
Advise exercises if the toes are still mobile
Show you how to strap the toe in a corrected position
Provide a splint or protection
Consider orthotics

Advise on surgery
The way in which your foot loads during walking can place increased stress on the ball of the foot and cause increased toe activity. Special shoe inserts (orthoses) can help to control foot movement. Whilst these are unlikely to resolve established deformity they may help reduce discomfort in the ball of the foot.

Will this cure the problem?
If the deformity is mobile, then this may help prevent progression although there have been no scientific studies to analyse the benefit. If the deformity is fixed, then orthotics will not cure the problem but may reduce the associated symptoms.

What will happen if I leave this alone?
Generally, the deformity becomes worse with time and slowly becomes fixed (stiff). This can cause discomfort in shoes. The position of the toe places increased stress on the ball of the foot and this can become painful. Corn and callous formation on the ball of the foot is not uncommon. In some cases, the metatarsophalangeal joint capsule ruptures, causing the toe to sit up in the air.

Can the deformity be reversed or cured?
The only effective way of correcting the deformity is to have an operation.

How does the operation correct the deformity?
There are a number of different operations. However, the most common operations are:
Tendon transfer
Digital arthroplasty
Digital arthrodesis

Hopefully this is an effective run down of various questions commonly asked by my patients here, and if you come up with more please comment and the questions will be answered.

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