Best Ways to Prevent Hammertoe

A hammertoe is one of the more appropriately named conditions of your feet, given the condition’s ability to turn your straight toe into a crooked, hammer-like appendage. While a hammertoe isn’t medically unsafe, its effects can run deeper than cosmetic concerns, often leading to painful corns and calluses. Not to mention, a hammertoe can turn every shoe into an uncomfortable torture chamber.


At Kazmer Foot & Ankle Center, we see many cases of hammertoe, ranging from mild to severe, at our three Illinois locations in Elgin, Barrington, and Chicago. In the following, we explore what causes hammertoe, and how you can best avoid the condition in the first place.


Behind the hammer


A hammertoe typically strikes the second toe located right beside your big toe, although it can happen in your third and fourth toes, as well. It’s created by an imbalance in the connective tissue that’s designed to keep your toes straight, namely your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.


Because of this imbalance, the middle joint in your toe starts to bend upward, a condition that can get progressively worse until it’s hard to straighten your toe at all. Your toe may also start to bend sideways, pushing painfully into your neighboring toes. The joint that’s bent upward also has a tendency to form painful calluses and corns, thanks to the friction between it and your shoes.


Lowering the hammer


One of the biggest culprits behind creating this imbalance is ill-fitting shoes, and ladies, we’re talking largely to you. Those trendy heels with the pointy toes are wreaking havoc on your feet, throwing off its structural balance and weakening the tissue that holds your toes straight. Men, too, can fall prey to ill-fitting shoes, as fashion trends favor pointy tips.


Outside of ill-fitting shoes, hammertoes are also created by a trauma, congenital structural irregularities, or as a result of corrective surgery, such as a bunionectomy. Neuropathic conditions, such as diabetes, also play a part in the development of hammertoes.


If the shoe fits


Whether you’re already developing a hammertoe or simply want to prevent them in the first place, there are a number of things you can do, starting with your shoes.


Jamming your feet into ill-fitting shoes, and then adding a heel, which displaces your feet’s pressure points, can (and does) lead to hammertoes. One of the simplest preventive strategies is to allow your toes to function as they were designed, even while wearing shoes.


Give your feet ample room in the toebox (about ½ inch), and even support throughout the shoe, not creating too much pressure on any one area. Custom orthotics go a long way toward helping even out the pressure in your feet, keeping all of your contact points perfectly balanced. While custom orthotics are far easier to camouflage in men’s shoes, new, thinner orthotics can be used in many women’s shoes.


And instead of requesting that our female readers refrain from ever wearing heels (because we know you won’t likely follow this recommendation), how about meeting us halfway? If you must wear heels, avoid ones with pointy toes, which do the most damage.


And if it’s height you’re after, try a platform shoe or boot that lends height both in the back and front, keeping the pressure on your feet more even. If you still insist on wearing high, pointy heels, keep in mind that, come summertime, the hammertoe you’ve developed will be a sore sight in an open-toed sandal.


Work it out


If you see a hammertoe developing, early intervention can make all the difference. We can work with you to come up with some simple exercises you can do while watching TV or sitting at your desk. From rolling a tennis ball around to picking up marbles, we can work together to re-strengthen your weakened connective tissue and straighten your toe back out.


Some simple at-home exercises, performed once or twice a day, can prevent a hammertoe from forming, or progressing, past the point of no return, where surgery is the only option left.


To prevent a hammertoe from becoming an unsightly and uncomfortable presence in your life, please give us a call so we can discuss your next steps. Or, you can book an appointment on this website using our online scheduling tool.

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