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Mallet toe is a similar condition, but affects the upper joint of a toe.
Hammer toes are usually not a serious condition, but can become painful as the bent joint rubs against the inside of the shoe, causing irritation, corns, or calluses on the top of the middle joint or the tip of the toe. Hammer toes may also cause occasional shooting pains throughout the toes or elsewhere in the foot.
Hammer toes are most frequently caused by a muscle - tendon imbalance in the foot, and are seen both in adults and children. Foot muscles work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes. If your foot has a biomechanical defect, the muscles tighten and the tendons shorten. Eventually, the toe muscles can't straighten the toe, even when barefoot. Contributing factors are poor choices in footwear, arthritis, or trauma.
How your footwear contributes to hammer toes: Shoes that narrow toward the toe force the smaller toes into a bent upward position. This makes the toes rub against the inside of the shoe, and creates corns and calluses, aggravating the toes further. If the shoes have a high heel, the feet are forced forward and down, squeezing the toes against the front of the shoe, which increases the pressure on the toes and makes them bend further. Eventually, the toe muscles become unable to straighten the toe.
Treatment for Hammer toes
Your podiatrist at PA Foot and Ankle Associates may recommend one or more of these treatments to manage your hammer toes:
WebMD suggests these stretching exercises to correct hammer toes: "Gently pull on your toes to stretch the bent joints in the other direction, and hold the stretch for several seconds at a time. For example, if a joint bends up, gently stretch it down. Work on just one joint at a time. You should feel a long, slow, gentle pulling. Do this stretching several times in the morning and several times in the evening.
"To work on strength, try putting a towel flat under your feet, using your toes to crumple it, and using your toes to pick up things, such as marbles. (click links to see pictures).
Watch a patient testimonial on hammer toe surgery from PA Foot and Ankle Associates