Hammer and claw toes are toe deformities characterised by toes that are bent in an odd position. A hammer toe curls downward at the middle joint and usually occurs at the second or third toe.
On the other hand, a claw toe is characterised by toes bent into a claw-like position and can affect multiple toes simultaneously.
Symptoms of Hammer & Claw Toes
Apart from the odd appearance of your toes, hammer and claw toes can cause severe pain and the development of calluses or corns resulting from consistent rubbing against ill-fitting footwear. In more severe cases, you may also find it hard to walk and maintain your balance.
Common Causes of Hammer & Claw Toes
The most common cause of hammer and claw toes is the long term usage of ill-fitting shoes. Wearing overly tight footwear can cause your toes to stay in an unnatural bent position for too long, tightening your muscles and shortening your tendons. Over time, you might find it difficult to straighten the affected toes, resulting in curled toes even when you’re barefooted.
Wearing high heels may also result in hammer and claw toes, which explains why women are more likely to develop such conditions.
Your risk of developing hammer and claw toes might also increase if you have a foot or ankle injury, or suffer from certain diseases like arthritis, diabetes and stroke.
Diagnosis of Hammer & Claw Toes
Before diagnosing your condition, your doctor will ask some questions about your symptoms and existing health conditions. Questions may include:
- When did the symptoms begin?
- Do you have any corns or calluses?
- What kind of shoes do you wear, and how much time do you spend walking or standing daily?
- Do you have any existing related medical conditions, such as diabetes and arthritis?
- Did you have any previous foot conditions?
Next, your doctor will examine your foot to check if the toe joint is flexible or rigid. If your toes are still flexible, it means that your condition is in the early stage where your toes still flex at the joints despite being stiff. If your toes are rigid, your condition is in the late stage where your toes are stuck and unable to move.
Your doctor may also recommend further tests to aid with diagnosis, including x-rays, blood flow testing and nerve testing.
Get Treatment for Hammer & Claw Toes in Singapore Today
Hammer and claw toes can be corrected with proper and timely treatment. If you notice any signs of hammer and claw toes, please speak to your doctor right away. Dr Gowreeson Thevendran, a renowned foot surgeon in Singapore will recommend the appropriate treatment for your condition.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hammer & Claw Toes
1. What happens if I don’t fix my hammer and claw toes?
If left untreated, hammer and claw toes can deteriorate and require surgery to correct them. In worst case scenarios, they can turn into permanent deformities. Therefore, it is essential to get timely treatment for hammer and claw toes.
2. Can hammer and claw toes be straightened without surgery?
Yes, hammer and claw toes can be corrected without surgery if you seek prompt medical attention. Your doctor may recommend the following non-surgical treatments for hammer and claw toes:
- Switching your footwear to roomy shoes with low heels and adequate arch supports. Athletic shoes and sandals are great options. You could also consider custom-made shoes.
- Using pads and splints to relieve pain caused by corns and calluses.
- Using products that cushion the toe or hold the foot in a more comfortable position, such as arch supports, orthotics and moleskin.
- Specific exercises to strengthen and stretch your foot muscles, such as gently stretching your toes manually or using your toes to pick things off the ground.
However, if conservative treatment doesn’t reduce your pain, you may need surgery.
3. What are the surgical options for hammer and claw toes?
Surgical options may include the following:
- Arthroplasty: Removal of part of the toe bone. This procedure is also known as phalangeal head resection.
- Arthrodesis: Removal of the joint and letting the toe bones grow together. This is also known as joint fusion.
- Toe implant: To replace a bent joint or straighten a toe.
- Tendon transfer: Transferring tendons from the bottom of the toe to the top of the toe to straighten the joint.
- Tendon lengthening: Lengthening the tendons that are causing the joint imbalance. This treatment is typically for patients with a flexible joint.
4. Can hammer and claw toes come back after treatment?
Yes, hammer and claw toes may return even after treatment. The best way to prevent hammer and claw toes from recurring is to choose proper footwear. When choosing proper footwear, look out for the following:
- Low heels: High-heeled shoes force the feet into unnatural positions and increase your risk of developing hammer and claw toes.
- Ample toe room: Ensure that your shoes are in the right size and avoid narrow, pointy shoes.
- Adjustable: If possible, opt for shoes with adjustable straps and lace.
Proper arch support: Shoes with proper arch support can prevent foot ailments in general.
You can also ask your doctor to recommend exercises that you can do to prevent a recurrence.
5. How long does it take to recover from hammer and claw toes surgery?
The length of recovery depends on your condition and the type of surgery you had. Generally, you may experience some swelling, stiffness and redness in your toe for up to 4-6 weeks after hammer and claws surgery.
Dr Gowreeson Thevendran is currently an orthopaedic surgeon with Island Orthopaedic, a one-stop care centre for orthopaedic health under Healthway Medical Group. He specialises in treating lower limb orthopaedic conditions, as well as trauma and fracture surgery of both the upper and lower limbs. Prior to establishing his private practice, Dr Gowreeson was Chief of Foot & Ankle Surgery at the Department of Orthopaedics at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). Today, he continues to serve the Orthopaedic Department at TTSH as a visiting consultant.