Published: Mar. 23, 2011
Updated: Mar. 23, 2011
By Carol Harbers
A pair of stylish, high-heeled shoes can make some women feel glamorous and sexy, but those beautiful shoes can also cause an unsexy-looking and -sounding foot deformity: hammer toe.
High heels and pointed shoes force the toes down into the shoe or into a point. When toes don’t have enough room to lie flat, a hammer toe can develop, usually with a bunion.
Anyone with a family history of hammer toe is also more likely to develop the condition.
You can stretch the muscles and tendons to relieve the cramping and to straighten your toes. If your toe is also rubbing up against the underside of your shoe, you can also use small pads, found in most drugstores, to cover and protect the toe.
“As far as conservative treatments options, though, that’s it,” Parekh says.
For more advanced cases, the traditional approach is a surgery in which the surgeon removes some bone and inserts a pin into the toe. For four to six weeks, the pin keeps the previously bent toe immobilized while its bones fuse.
Though the surgery is effective, the patient has a pin sticking out of her toe -- and when she begins walking, if she isn’t careful, the pin itself can get caught on things or hit the ground.
A newer technique involves inserting the SmartToe implant into the toe instead of a pin. The bones fuse around the implant, which is permanent. “Think of the device as something similar to a pin but completely inside your bone,” Parekh says.
“One of the big benefits of implants is that you don’t have something sticking out of your toe.” While recovery lasts just as long as with the traditional surgery, the SmartToe allows patients to get back on their feet and walking faster than with the traditional pin, sometimes within days.
Parekh says it’s a good idea to seek medical attention if you have toe pain with or without shoes. Or, if shoes you used to find comfortable are no longer comfortable, see a foot expert or an orthopaedic surgeon who can discuss your options with you.
“I’ve had patients who have 200 or 300 pairs of shoes and are very emphatic and serious when they say there is no way they’re getting rid of their shoes,” he says. “And that’s okay. We can work with them, with everyone understanding that we will eventually have to do surgery.”
Other patients say they don’t care what shoes they wear. They just want to relieve the pain and walk comfortably again.
“After taking care of so many patients, one thing I can say is if your foot and ankle hurt, you will feel miserable,” Parekh says. “It really is worth taking care of your feet to prevent any long-term problems.”
Hammer toe is actually a slight misnomer. Hammertoe specifically refers to deformities of the second, third, fourth, or fifth toes. The toe is bent at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. Many people also use the term to refer to all such deformities, but a multiple-jointed deformity is more accurately called a claw toe.