Your toes help you to balance and propel your body when you move. As your foot flattens, the little toes bend to grip the ground. Then they straighten, acting like levers to push your foot so you can walk or run. But if the front of your foot is wide, you may develop a problem know as a hammertoe. In general, the term "hammer-toe" describes a curling of any of the toe joints. Joints at the end or middle of the toe, as well as the joint near the ball of the foot may be affected. Toe joints usually buckle because of a muscle imbalance, or tight tendons. Hammertoes vary in severity and in the number of joints involved.

Hammertoes may be flexible or rigid, depending on the joint's ability to move. A flexible joint may stiffen as you age. You can straighten a flexible hammer toe with your fingers.

Hammer Toes Although they look painful, a flexible hammer toe may not hurt. A rigid hammer toe cannot be moved. Rigid joints may cause pain and distort foot movement. This may put extra stress on the ball of the foot, causing a callus (a corn on the bottom of the foot). Sometimes the top of the toe will rub against your shoe and cause irritation or pain.

Your doctor will most likely take an x-ray of your foot to show the deformity and determine if some of the surrounding joints have arthritis. If your symptoms are mild, changing the type of shoes worn may be all the treatment you need. Using a splint or pad to hold your toes straight may also help. Corns and calluses can be cushioned with a soft padding.

If your symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed. The type of procedure may be determined by whether the toe joints are flexible or rigid. Rigid hammer toes can be corrected by removing a piece of bone to help straighten the toe. A pin may be used to hold the remaining bone in alignment while it heals.

Hammertoe surgeries are usually out-patient procedures. In fact, you may even be able to place weight on your foot by the time you go home. For best results however, you may need to wear a special shoe for a few weeks.

*photo credit: The StayWell Company / Krames Patient Education