Have you ever noticed your toe bent up in the middle instead of lying flat? Maybe you noticed it, shrugged, and moved on, because it wasn’t bothering you at the time. After a while, though, the distorted joint may have started becoming a pain. Your toe wasn’t meant to stick in one position, so that can quickly become uncomfortable. If it rubs against your shoes, the friction can cause additional discomfort. Fortunately, this problem doesn’t have to be permanent; with intentional, conservative care, you can return your toes to normal.

What Is a Hammertoe, Anyway?

Smaller toes that are stuck in a bent position at the middle joint are called hammertoes. This condition typically affects the second toe, though any of the other small digits could be affected. It often causes pain as you try to walk, especially when the distorted joints rub against your footwear.

There are two kinds of hammertoes—flexible and stiff. Flexible ones can still be straightened, whether you do so by hand or they relax on their own once removed from constricting shoes. They are very treatable using conservative methods. Stiff toes, however, have become stuck in the bent position. Returning them to flat can mean more involved remedies.

Several problems can cause your toes to become misshapen, including injuries, pre-existing conditions, too-tight shoes, and muscle weakness in the foot. Injuries that jam or break the toe or conditions that add extra pressure make the joints more likely to stick. Shoes that squeeze the toes can also force them into a bent position. Over time, they can become stuck there and have trouble straightening. Other issues can cause muscle weakness or imbalance, so one set of muscles hold a toe bent and the others are unable to effectively counteract them.

However it begins, the result is the same: one or more toes that distort and cause pain while walking.

Treating the Source Relieves the Pain

Dealing with what causes your pain in the first place helps to both reduce your discomfort and keep it from returning. We will examine your foot to determine both the source of your problem and what other foot structures, if any, are involved.

Since shoes play a large part in hammertoe development, you will most likely need to change your shoes to ones that better accommodates your feet. A wide toe box that is half an inch longer than your longest digit gives your feet room to wiggle as needed instead of cramping them. You may need orthotics to correct any pre-existing issues that contributed to the condition, or to protect your foot from rubbing against your shoes and forming corns or calluses.

Stretches and exercises help relax and strengthen the muscles in your feet so they are better able to do their jobs. Simple movements, like picking up objects with your feet, work the smaller muscles that control the toes and helps them stay balanced.

If conservative measures are not effective, or if your condition is too stiff and causes you significant pain, you may need surgery to correct it. The experts at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona can release tightened tendons and adjust stiffened joints to return your toe to its natural position.

If your toes are bent and painful, don’t ignore the discomfort. Most of the time this deformity can be corrected through conservative measures and offer you real relief. Instead of suffering through a problem that can eventually limit your mobility, contact the staff of Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona.