Watching a ballerina move gracefully on stage is an amazing thing when you realize that she is most likely affected with hammer toe, corns, calluses, bunions and a lot of pain in her feet and toes. She’ll spend at least half an hour after the performance nursing her feet out of pain by soaking them in a cold foot bath just to decrease the inflammation.
It’s the unnatural act of stuffing one’s feet into an unsupported shoe that’s usually too tight that can be a culprit in the development of hammer toe in a ballerina. And you’ll never hear a ballerina ask the question, what is hammer toe? She feels that she could probably lecture to a class at a podiatry school about the topic, and provide plenty of firsthand info.
What Is Hammer Toe Exactly?
Usually if you’re asking the question, what is hammer toe, you don’t have the condition. A hammer toe is a toe that literally becomes shaped like a hammer. The big toe and smallest 5th toe are rarely affected, but the other toes are commonly seen affected. And ballerinas aren’t the only ones at risk of developing a hammer toe.
Hammer toes develop from squeezing the toes together, which forces the muscles into a contracted position – one that looks like a hammer. The more often the squeezing is repeated, the more the toes tighten until they can’t relax anymore. Without any hammer toe treatment, toes are permanently bent into the deformed position.
Some foot experts believe that people with flexible hammer toes – ones that haven’t become permanently deformed – can be significantly relieved. They say that the answer is to strengthen the anterior tibial muscles – the shin bone muscles which allow you to bring your toes upwards towards the sky from a flat footed position. A physical therapist might do this type of strengthening exercise when the foot is supinated (when the outer part of the foot rolls to try to get the bottom of the foot to face the sky.
The experts say that this makes a big difference in the condition. It’s possible, if they are right, that hammer toes could be caused by muscle imbalances, and although squeezing the toes together hard can contribute to their formation, it’s possible that many other foot conditions are the result of muscle imbalances.
Symptoms of Hammer Toes
The obvious sign of hammer toe is the deformity itself. But along with the deformity, you can have these symptoms:
1. Pain in the affected toe
2. Redness in the affected toe
3. Swelling around the joint
4. Stiffness in the toe joints
5. Difficulty walking; abnormal gait
6. Difficulty finding shoes that fit
7. Corns and calluses
How to Consciously Create Hammer Toes
There are four sure ways to end up with hammer toes.
1. Wear high heels which compress the toes, and wear them all day long.
2. Wear tight shoes for long periods of time.
3. Wear the narrowest shoes you have in your closet, and do it often. Don’t let pain stop you!
4. Never see a podiatrist when you have foot pain, especially when your toes look like little hammers.
Arthritis also may be a cause of hammer toes. And diabetics with a condition called peripheral neuropathy where they lose feeling of their feet also develop the condition more frequently than the non-diabetic population. They can’t feel the tightness in the toes when the toes contract.
A Little Hammer Toe Can’t Possibly Cause Anything Else To Go Wrong
If you believe the above statement, unfortunately you are wrong.
If hammer toes are allowed to progress, they can end up causing an abnormal gait which can lead to other problems with the body in the knee, hip and back. The body is all connected together so when one part suffers, the other parts try to make up for the pain, creating new imbalances. So if you have hammer toes, now is the time to do something about them.
One other big problem with hammer toes is that it becomes difficult to find shoes that fit a foot with hammer toes.
PICTURE: BUNION PIC WITH CORN
Another major issue is that because the toe is elevated in one part, that elevated part becomes more prone to develop a callus or a corn or a blister. Hammer toes are especially a problem for those with diabetes because corns will easily grow on top of a hammer toe or on the tip of the curving toe.
Ways To Relieve And Treat Hammer Toe
There are things you can do TODAY to relieve your hammer toe. And why not get started since pain really isn’t a fun thing to deal with in life. If you can relieve one type of pain in your body this month, and another pain next month, you will only begin to feel better and better as time goes on.
Here are the ways to relieve pain of hammer toes:
1. Metatarsal pads and ball of foot pads are an important part of the treatment for hammer toes. These support the transverse metatarsal arch of the foot. See the picture of what this arch looks like. Metatarsal pads are worn under the ball of the foot. People who have pain under the ball of the foot find relief from them.
Ball of foot pads and hammer toe cushions relieve pressure and can straighten the toes.
PICTURE: SPENCO GEL INSOLES
2. Spenco Gel Comfort Insoles are full length insoles that support three parts of the foot: the heel, medial arch, and metatarsals. It’s possible that Spenco Gel Comfort Insoles could eliminate the need for metatarsal pads or ball of foot pads, since they are built into this insole. The metatarsal arch support is great because now you’ll feel less pressure on the balls of your feet. And the heel support absorbs a majority of the impact when your foot first hits the ground for a new step.
And since they are filled with gel that softens your steps, Spenco Gel Comfort Insoles could make you feel like you’re walking on clouds. By the way, while you’re literally up in heaven, you don’t have to worry about smelly feet because the antimicrobial top cloth keeps fighting foot bacteria and without bacteria, there is no smell.
As you can see, the purpose of Spenco Gel Comfort insoles is to redistribute your weight upon walking inside your shoe. Insoles can make a big difference when there are biomechanical problems of the feet.
3. Wear wide shoes that give your toes room! No more squeezing them into small spaces.
4. Stretch those tight muscles of your lower leg.
5. Consider surgery. In surgery, the doctor will cut the tendons that are keeping the toe in that hammer position or re-align the bones into their correct position. He may also opt to cut 1/16th of an inch of bone off the deformed joints so the bones will align straight. It takes about 60 days to recover from the surgery. However, with newer techniques, minimal incisions are made that only need two stitches. Some techniques even allow patients to get back to normal activities the same day after they had surgery.
6. Extra-depth shoes allow room for the hammer toe.