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What is a Hammer Toe?

Hammering of the toe describes a deformity of the lesser toes. The toes have two joints in them. If the joint furthest from the toe nail becomes bent, then it can rub on the shoe above it. This can form a hard area of skin over time, or even ulcerate. Both of these are painful. If the toe remains bent for a long period, it can become stuck in the bent position. This is what is known as  fixed deformity, and no amount of pulling or insoles will cause it to return to a normal position.

Hammering may occur because of unusual toe lengths. If the second or third toe is longer than the big toe, then when shoes are worn, the joints have to bend to allow the toes to be accomodated within the shoe. If the big toe is affected by a bunion, the big toe may ride under the second toe, again causing a deformity. Hammering may also occur as a result of diseases of the nerves or muscles.

The toe is sore when shoes are worn, and there may have been an ulcer in the past. The toe may not straighten out, even with force. There may be hard skin over the joint, and sometimes under the ball of the foot.

If you have a hammer toe, it is best to see an orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in foot and ankle surgery. You should have x-rays taken in a standing position - this will show if there is any bony damage that has caused the deformity, and also gives an idea of what the best method of treatment may be.