“Beauty is pain.” How many of you have heard this? First, that’s crazy – don’t promulgate that myth. Second, causing yourself pain to wear a style that may look cute isn’t only silly; it can do long-term damage. One fashion item notoriously responsible for both immediate pain and damage in the long run are shoes. Do they cramp your toes? If so, you may be setting the stage for hammertoe, a common, painful deformity of the second, third, or fourth toe, often the result of wearing narrow shows with little or no arch support.
An Obvious, Bent Toe
The ligaments, tendons, and muscles in your body all have specific jobs. When it comes to your feet, one of the jobs is to keep your toes straight. Damage to these structures can cause them to permanently bend in abnormal ways. In the case of hammertoe, the bent toe will resemble a hammer. Other symptoms include toe pain, corns and callouses on top of the middle joint of the hammertoe, swelling, redness, a burning sensation, inability to straighten the toe, and open sores in severe cases.
Why Cramped Toes Are to Blame
Any trauma to the foot that damages the tendons, muscles, or ligaments can result in hammertoe. This means a break, a jam, or even stubbing a toe can cause it to bend in an unnatural direction. So, imagine the impact that having your toes cramped for several hours repeatedly in tight shoes might have on tendons. You’re forcing them to bend in an unnatural way, perhaps for several days a week. Over time, this may result in a hammertoe or toes.
How to Prevent Hammertoe
The easiest and best way to prevent hammertoe is to buy shoes that fit properly. There should be adequate room in the toe box and a low heel. Avoid pointy-toes shoes and high heels that force the feet into unnatural positions that bend the toes. To ensure a proper fit, shop for shoes at the end of the day to factor in swelling that naturally occurs over the course of the day. Besides roominess, look for a shoe that has proper arch support.
When hammertoe is caught early, lifestyle changes and exercises may suffice for treatment. In mild cases, when the toe is still flexible, treatment may include exercises, changing footwear, or use of a shoe insert or over-the-counter corn pads and foot straps to reduce pain. When a hammertoe is rigid and no longer flexible, surgery (usually outpatient) may be recommended to reposition the toe, realign tendons, and remove deformed bone.
Even after treatment, hammertoe could return. The best way to ensure hammertoe doesn’t reoccur is through choosing and wearing proper footwear.
Dr. Alade is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon at Kelsey-Seybold’s Berthelsen Main Campus and Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. His expertise is in major foot and ankle surgery, including reconstruction and repair of trauma, arthritis, bunions, and other foot deformities. His experience also includes serious foot problems caused by diabetes and peripheral vascular disease.