A hammertoe is a deformity in which the toe bends in a claw-like position.
This deformity can be present in the second, third or fourth toe; however, it is most common in the second toe.
There are two forms of hammertoe, flexible and rigid. With a flexible hammertoe the joint of the toe is able to move, therefore, the toe is able to straighten manually.
With a rigid hammertoe the joint of the toe does not have the same mobility as the flexible hammertoe resulting in limited movement and pain. Corns and calluses can also form on the hammertoe due to the toe constantly rubbing on the shoe.
There are several causes for hammertoe. Wearing high heel shoes is one of the causes for hammertoe. High heel shoes cause pressure on the front part of the foot squishing the toes together, causing one or more toes to bend. If the toes are bent and held in one position long enough the muscles will tighten and be unable to stretch out even after the shoe has been removed. This in turn, will start out as a flexible hammer toe but eventually may result in a rigid hammer toe.
Another cause of hammertoe is muscle imbalance. This is where the ligaments and tendons become unnaturally tight. As a result of this, the toe curls downward giving it the claw-like appearance. Left untreated this will also become a rigid hammertoe. Arthritis can also be a cause of a hammertoe.
There are several treatments for hammertoe. One is wearing properly fitting shoes with plenty of room in the toe area and avoiding high heel shoes.
Because tendons have tightened, another hammertoe treatment is stretching exercises. Stretching the toe can help lengthen the over tight tendon helping the toe to not bend abnormally.