Hammertoes form when the muscles and tendons in a toe become tight, forcing the toe joint to become bent like the claw of a hammer. Hammertoes can develop in anyone, but they're more common among women who wear high heels on a regular basis and other people who wear shoes with a tight or narrow toe area or shoes that don't fit properly. Because of their bent shape, hammer toes often rub against the interior surface of shoes, causing painful corns or calluses. Arthritis, diabetes, and circulatory or nerve problems can also cause hammer toes to form, and they may also develop after an injury to the foot.
In most cases, hammertoes can be diagnosed with a simple visual examination of the toe, based on the characteristic claw-like appearance. In a few cases, x-rays may be taken to determine the extent of the damage to the toe joint and to rule out other causes of deformity.
Often, the first step in treating hammertoes is to begin wearing shoes that fit properly and provide plenty of room in the toe area. Custom orthotics, special shoe inserts designed specifically for your foot shape, can also help relieve pressure and maintain the toe in a normal shape during walking. Cushioning can also help prevent friction that can cause corns and calluses to develop. Gentle stretching exercises or special splints or braces may be recommended to help restore the tendons and muscles and return the toe to a more normal shape and position. In a few cases, surgery may be necessary to fuse the joint, reshape the connective tissues, or remove small portions of bone. Following surgery, a special surgical shoe may need to be worn during the initial stages of healing to promote proper positioning of the toe.
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