Did you know the shoes you wear can sometimes have a drastic effect on the health of your feet? If you've noticed stiffness, pain, and arching in some of your toes, you might be suffering from a condition called hammer toe, which is caused by overly tight shoes. Hammer toe can lead to more serious conditions if not treated promptly, so you should be aware of what it is and what you can do if you suspect you have it.
How Do Hammer Toes Form?
While it is possible to be born with hammer toes due to a bone or tendon problem in the foot, the condition most often occurs in adults who previously had normal feet. The most common cause for hammer toes is wearing tight footwear that keeps the toes in a distorted or compressed shape for extended periods of time. Walking frequently throughout the day in such shoes can increase the likelihood of developing hammer toes even more.
When the toe is held in a strange position for long periods, the muscles can be damaged. The reason this effect is amplified by frequent walking is that the act of walking puts even more strain on the contorted muscles and tendons in the foot. After muscle damage occurs, the tendon itself may also respond to the positioning by hardening and tightening, making it more difficult to move the affected toe.
Because cramped footwear is a common cause of hammer toes, they occur more often in women than men. Women are more likely to wear high heels or dress shoes with tight toe regions. However, men who wear tight shoes have just as much chance of developing hammer toes as women who wear them. Pre-existing conditions involving the toe muscles or tendons in the foot may also increase the likelihood of developing this condition.
What Should You Do If You Develop A Hammer Toe?
If one or more of your toes is difficult to move and naturally reverts to an arched position, it may be time to call your doctor. Treatment for hammer toes is depending on how early you catch the condition, so you should have your feet checked out if you are even a little bit suspicious. Try to write down information about the type of shoes you wear, how much you walk, and any other foot condition you have or have had in the past, even if you think they're irrelevant.
If you can still stretch out the affected toes slightly, you may be able to fix the problem with nonsurgical methods. Your doctor may give you splints for the affected toes to help straighten them out over time, or may show you how to wrap tape around them to the same affect. You will of course be instructed to wear shoes with a roomy toe area and avoid walking in shoes as much as possible. Your doctor may also recommend specific stretching exercised to be performed once or twice a day, in order to improve toe flexibility.
Surgery may be necessary if you cannot move the affected toes at all. Your doctor will take x-rays to determine what form of toe surgery will be the most effective, and you'll then need to go in and have the operation performed. Depending on the type of hammer toe, you will probably still need to undergo physical therapy to get your toe back in working order after it has healed. As with nonsurgical options, you should avoid wearing tight shoes as much as possible.
If you think you have the signs of developing hammer toes, you should call your podiatrist right away. With fast action and medical care, you may be able to avoid foot surgery and get your feet back in shape.