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Why Is Your Toe Curling Up?

Is one of your toes curling up at the middle joint? Perhaps it straightens when you press down on it, but you can no longer straighten it without pushing on it. Or maybe it has been curled for a while, and you can no longer manipulate it into the straight position. This mystery condition, which is more common than you might think, is called hammertoe. Podiatrists are used to seeing it and adept at treating it. Read on to learn more.

Why Do You Have Hammertoe?

Unlike some other common foot ailments, like bunions, hammertoe does not have a strong genetic component. Rather, it is brought on by certain lifestyle habits and other health conditions. Patients with arthritis and diabetes are more likely to develop hammertoe. Wearing high heels or shoes that are too small may also contribute to the condition.

Hammertoe is essentially a shortening of the tendons and muscles in your toe. As these tissues shorten, they pull back on the joint, causing it to flex even when you are relaxing. 

How Can You Ease the Discomfort of Hammertoe?

Hammertoe results in a few types of discomfort. The affected toe itself may feel sore and stiff. You may also develop corns and sores on the top of the toe where it rubs against your shoe or on the side of your toe where it rubs against neighboring toes. Thankfully, you can deal with both types of pain at home.

Change Your Shoes

You can find shoes made specifically for people with hammertoe. You can also visit a reputable shoe store and look for shoes with the following qualities:
  • A wide toe box
  • Well-cushioned, rubber soles
  • Soft fabric construction on the inside
Try shoes on before you buy them. Make sure that even when you walk in them, you don't feel any pressure on the top of your hammertoe.

Use Gel Toe Separators

Visit your local pharmacy and look for gel toe separators. These are little pads that you can place between your hammertoe and your normal toes to prevent corns and calluses from forming.

Use a Hammertoe Straightener

If you find that your hammertoe becomes sore during the day, look for a hammertoe straightener at your local pharmacy - or ask your podiatrist for one. Wearing this device will also help keep your hammertoe from getting worse.

You can choose from a couple of different types of straighteners. One fits under your toes, holding them in place. Another is a soft pad with a little loop for your hammertoe to slip through. Try both types to see which is more comfortable for you.

Apply a Topical Pain Reliever

When your hammertoe or the surrounding toes feel sore, try applying a topical pain reliever. Those that contain menthol and other cooling ingredients - and that are often recommended for athletes - work well. A pain reliever in a roll-on container is easy to take with you in your purse or bag so you can use it throughout the day if needed.

How Can You Treat Hammertoe Permanently?

Not everyone who develops hammertoe requires a permanent treatment. The methods above can keep many patients comfortable and relatively pain-free. However, if your hammertoe continues to cause pain and discomfort in spite of these conservative treatments, your podiatrist may recommend surgery as a permanent fix.

Hammertoe surgery is usually a simple, outpatient procedure. Your doctor will make an incision along the top of the toe, repair the joint within - often by cutting certain tendons and ligaments - and then stitch the incision closed.

You may need to walk on crutches for a few days or weeks, but most patients recover within a few weeks. Hammertoe can return after surgery, so you may need to continue wearing orthotics and specialized shoes post surgery.

If one of your toes is curling up, don't panic. Hammertoe is a rather common condition, and you can manage and treat it in a number of ways. Contact the podiatrists at Hunstville Podiatry Center PC to make an appointment to have your toe examined. 


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