(Image: http://cityfootcare.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/DSCN1504-anotated-10-25-2010.jpg)Overview A Hammer Toe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toe in which the toe becomes bent at the middle joint; hence, it resembles a hammer. Claw toe and mallet toe are related conditions. While a hammer toe is contracted at the first toe joint, a mallet toe is contracted at the second toe joint, and a claw toe is contracted at both joints. According to the 2012 National Foot Health Assessment conducted by the NPD Group for the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, 3 percent of U.S. adults age 21 and older (about 7 million people) have experienced hammer toe or claw toe. The condition is significantly more prevalent in females than in males.

Causes The incorrect position of the person's toes inside of their shoes also causes the formation of calluses or corns on the surfaces of their toes which are constantly bent as they are wearing inappropriate shoes because the surfaces are consistently rubbing against the hard materials of the interior of the shoes causing regular friction.

(Image: http://gramercyparkpodiatry.com.edit.officite.com/images/Before20Bunion.JPG)Symptoms A hammer toe may be painful, especially when irritated by a shoe. All four toe conditions may cause cramps in the toes, foot and leg due to the abnormal function of the tendons in the foot. If a mallet toe has occurred, you are likely to suffer from a corn at the end of the toe. A hammertoe may cause a corn on the top of the toe. Infections and ulcers can also occur. In severe cases a mallet toe, trigger toe, claw toe or a hammer toe may create a downward pressure on the foot, which can result in hard skin and corns on the soles of the feet.

Diagnosis A hammertoe is usually diagnosed with a physical inspection of your toe. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, may be ordered if you have had a bone, muscle, or ligament injury in your toe.

Non Surgical Treatment Mild hammer toe in children can be treated by manipulating and splinting the affected toe. The following changes in footwear may help relieve symptoms. Wear the right size shoes or shoes with wide toe boxes for comfort, and to avoid making hammer toe worse. Avoid high heels as much as possible. Wear soft insoles to relieve pressure on the toe. Protect the joint that is sticking out with corn pads or felt pads. A foot doctor can make foot devices called hammer toe regulators or straighteners for you, or you can buy them at the store. Exercises may be helpful. You can try gentle stretching exercises if the toe is not already in a Bunion fixed position. PIcking up a towel with your toes can help stretch and straighten the small muscles in the foot.

Surgical Treatment Hammer toe can be corrected by surgery if conservative measures fail. Usually, surgery is done on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic. The actual procedure will depend on the type and extent of the deformity. After the surgery, there may be some stiffness, swelling and redness and the toe may be slightly longer or shorter than before. You will be able to walk, but should not plan any long hikes while the toe heals, and should keep your foot elevated as much as possible.