Hammertoes have nothing to do with hammers other than their appearance. This condition describes toes — usually the second, third, or fourth — that remain bent from the middle joint. That’s how the condition got its name: the toe can resemble the head of a hammer when viewed from the side.

At Grand Central Podiatry, our foot and ankle doctor and podiatrist, Dr. Ernest Levi, has over 35 years of experience diagnosing and treating hammertoes. He blends traditional strategies with the newest state-of-the-art treatment techniques.

Now that you know what hammertoes are, it’s important to know a little about how they develop — and what you can do to eliminate them. Our January blog covers both things so you can put your hammertoes behind you.

How hammertoes happen

Hammertoes develop when the toe muscles (and the tendons and other tissues they’re connected to) become imbalanced. The connective tissues and muscles essentially pull the middle joint into the contracted (bent) position, and due to the imbalance, the toe can’t straighten normally.

Quite a few factors can contribute to this type of imbalance in the toes, with one of the biggest being persistent pressure on the toes from shoes.

Any shoes that are overly tight around the toes could lead to hammertoe. For example, high heels typically narrow at the toes, often causing the bending of the smaller ones. Additionally, high heels cause extra pressure on the toes, which may encourage toe bending.

Other factors, like having arthritis, previous toe injury, and genetics, could all contribute as well.

Bunions may be connected to hammertoe development, too. When you have a bunion, you’re likely to change how you walk, even if only slightly, which can lead to changes in the balance within your toes. In some studies, more than 70% of people with hammertoes also had bunions.

What you can do about hammertoes

Hammertoes are treatable when you have our experienced Grand Central Podiatry specialists. We start with a thorough exam, a review of all your symptoms, and careful treatment planning.

When hammertoes first develop, they’re still flexible, meaning you can straighten the bent toe when you put pressure on it. Although the toe will pop right back to the bent position, it’s movable, so it’s known as a flexible hammertoe.

If flexible hammertoes aren’t treated, they can turn into rigid hammertoes, which means that the toe won’t bend, regardless of pressure. It’s permanently in its hammer shape. So, naturally, we strongly recommend hammertoe treatment sooner, not later.

Your treatment depends, in large part, on what type of hammertoe you’re dealing with. Dr. Levi usually approaches flexible hammertoes using proven conservative techniques, such as custom orthotics, special foot and toe exercises, footwear changes, and cushions to protect vulnerable areas (like the top of your bent toe).

Rigid hammertoes need surgery, in which Dr. Levi expertly restores, rebalances, or replaces the tendons, muscles, and joints involved. Several techniques exist, such as tendon lengthening, reinforcing affected joints using biocompatible metal pins, and replacing the joint using hardware.

We can help you get your toe back to normal, but after having a hammertoe, it’s more important than ever to take some precautions that help protect your feet and prevent new problems.

We’re glad to guide you through preventive tips, and we’re always here to be your reliable foot and ankle care providers in East and West Midtown Manhattan. Connect with us online or call us at 607-536-4515.

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