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Most people have a pretty decent idea as to how toes are supposed to appear – lying flat and facing forward. It can be disconcerting, then, when you notice one (or several) of your toes has an abnormal bend and is not flat. There are several related conditions which result in a toe deformity, including hammertoes. If this is something you are experiencing, be sure to schedule an appointment with Jeffrie C. Leibovitz, D.P.M. in Indianapolis, IN for effective treatment.
In spite of their similarities, each of these toe deformities has its own particular nuances that distinguishes it from the others:
- Hammertoes – If your toe has an abnormal bend at the middle joint causing it to point down and towards the floor, this is the condition you are experiencing. In all likelihood, you will encounter this condition in the second toe.
- Mallet Toes – In a similar fashion, this condition also is marked by an abnormal downwards bend. The key distinction is that this deformity’s bend takes place in the joint that is closest to the tip of the toe. As with hammertoes, these most frequently affect the second toe.
- Claw Toes – A major distinction between this particular deformity and the other two is that claw toe typically happens to all of the four smaller toes. In addition to that difference, claw toes bend upwards at the joint where the toes meet the foot (the metatarsophalangeal joint), and then bend downwards at the other two joints, which creates a claw-like appearance.
When we note the symptoms of these closely-related conditions, the most prominent is simply the fact that the toes are bent in an abnormal manner and do not sit straight as they are intended. In addition, you will probably experience pain and discomfort when you walk. Your risk of developing calluses on the toes is also increased with these conditions. This happens because the deformed toes rub against the insides of footwear, which are not often designed for individuals with these issues.
The causes of these conditions include biomechanics (the way the foot works), tight tendons, injury, neuroma, and stroke. These deformities will be aggravated by a poor choice in footwear and arthritis. Shoes can become a major issue when they are either too tight or too small and force the toes together. This is especially the case for high heels, since there is additional pressure on the toes that overloads the front of the foot. Be on the lookout for pain right behind the base of the toe (ball of the foot). This is a sign that the toe is dislocating form the metatarsal joint.
The best time to treat hammertoes is in the early stage while it is still flexible. These conditions are progressive and cannot be reversed, but we can implement measures to keep them from worsening. This is often done with the use of conservative methods like stretches, custom orthotics, shoe selection, and padding.
Once a toe deformity has been present for some time, it will become rigid and conservative methods are no longer as effective. When we cannot reposition the toe or provide the pain relief you need, then it becomes time to discuss surgery as an option. The goal of any surgical procedure will be to straighten out the affected toes, and this is often accomplished by either releasing tendons that cause the issue or removing tiny pieces of bone.
Not all cases of hammertoes, claw toes, or mallet toes are preventable, but you can take measures to decrease the symptoms. A great place to start is ensuring that you wear shoes that properly fit your feet. Too many foot issues stem from ill-fitting footwear, so pick models that have appropriate width and deep toe boxes. If you cannot wiggle your toes easily, it’s time to pick up a different pair.
Staying physically active can help decrease your risk of developing these conditions by promoting healthy circulation. Although foot massages and toe curling exercises feel great they will have little effect on long term comfort.
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