Have you looked down recently at your foot and it seems your toes are not laying on the ground the same? Does it seem they are bending up or down too much? Have they become more painful, and have they started to develop a painful corn or callus? Does it seem that some of your toes are starting to “shorten”? What may be occurring is that you may be developing a hammertoe or claw toe, which can be correctly diagnosed by an orthopedic surgeon.
What is a Hammertoe?
A hammertoe is a common flexor deformity that generally occurs at the lesser toes of the foot – the 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th.
What is a Claw Toe?
Claw toe is exactly as it sounds; that your toes are “claws”, digging into the soles of your shoes and creating painful calluses. The tops of the toes eventually develop painful corns.
What Causes Hammertoes and Claw Toes?
The main cause of hammertoes/claw toes is generally the result of wearing too short of a shoe! We generally measure our footwear to the length of our great toe (big toe), but our second toe and sometimes even our third toe is longer. This “forces” the toes into our shoe, which causes our toe(s) to start bending to conform to the shoe. Pointed, narrow shoes which have a small toe box (area for the toes) will make this much worse. Put that same foot into the same shoe, but with high heels, and the toes could easily be “squished” into the end of the shoe. A hallux valgus (the great toe turning outward toward the second toe) with an associated bunion could easily exacerbate the hammertoe/claw toe problem.
Some people are also prone to claw toes because of high arches. Other causes can include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and advanced age.
When Do Toes Turn into Hammertoes or Claw Toes?
Whatever the cause, the change starts to happen when the muscles, which work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes, can’t do that because the toe(s) are held in a poor position and the muscles tighten; and therefore, the toe or toes do not straighten out, even when there is no confining shoe. If this continues, pressure starts to develop at three places on the toes: the MTP joint, the PIP joint and the tips of the toes. A contracture may start at the joints, and this happens when scar tissue tightens a joint and keeps it from moving through its normal range of motion.
The physical changes that occur when you suffer from claw toes or hammertoes involve the joints of the toes. The MTP joints (at the ball of your foot) go into extension, which makes the joint bend downward and causes the proximal phalanx of the affected toe to go upward. Then the next joint, the PIP joint, goes into flexion, bending the rest of the toe down. The result causes a painful toe or foot with pain both on the bottom and tops of your toes. This is true for both hammertoes and claw toes. The difference between the two is that with a claw toe, the last joint of the toe, the DIP joint, also flexes, making the toe look almost like a claw.
I Think I May Have Hammertoe or Claw Toe – What Should I Do?
What happens if you think you may have a claw toe or hammertoe? The initial proper treatment is to be seen by an orthopedic surgeon who is a foot and ankle specialist, like Dr. Myles Samotin in Naples, FL. They can determine if there are any special causes such as nerve damage which might make your toes become hammertoes or claw toes. They will also do a complete evaluation of your feet, determining the extend of damage to your toes and whether they are flexible or fixed.
Treatments for Hammertoes or Claw Toes
Treatment plans will be dependent upon what your orthopedic surgeon (specializing in foot and ankle issues) will find. Very early stages of hammertoes or claw toes can be treated with a change of footwear, therapy, special pads and maybe orthotics to help ease the pain and alleviate the problem.
Keep in mind that it’s important to work with a doctor who has the proper credentials and unique training to help you safely and correctly with your problem. Not all doctors who treat foot and ankle problems have the proper credentials, so be sure to work with an orthopedic surgeon in Florida who specializes in foot and ankle issues.
When Should I Get a Consultation from a Foot and Ankle Doctor?
Unfortunately, many people wait too long before they treat a hammertoe or claw toe, so it’s important to contact a doctor as soon as possible. When a patient waits too long, generally the treatment involves a surgical procedure by an orthopedic surgeon specializing in foot and ankle. Procedures generally involve straightening of the joints and getting proper alignment of the toes; much will be dependent upon what your orthopaedic surgeon finds.
For example, if you also have a hallux valgus with a bunion present on the same foot, then that must also be surgically straightened as well as your claw toes or hammertoes. What many patients must realize is that the greater the current deformity of your toes, the harder it is to put the toes back into proper position and to have them stay in that position.
Schedule an Appointment with an Experienced Orthopedic Surgeon to Discuss Your Issue
If you are unsure of the status of your toes, or would like a better understanding of the current anatomy of your foot, the best thing Dr. Samotin at Samotin Orthopaedics recommends is to see an orthopedic surgeon specializing in foot and ankle for a thorough and comprehensive evaluation.
With 28 bones in your foot, you need to be evaluated by a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon with a Sub-speciality, Fellowship Trained in Foot & Ankle Surgery. Dr. Samotin is one of the only surgeons in the Naples-area with these qualifications. This makes Dr. Samotin uniquely be able to handle these problems in a state-of-the-art atmosphere with a method that will help provide you with the most desired result.
Disclaimer: The materials available at this website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing medical advice. You should contact your doctor to obtain advice with respect to any particular medical issue or problem. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the medical office or any individual doctor or physician.