It’s easy to overlook the value of foot health until you’ve experienced the excruciating symptoms of a hammer toe. Unfortunately, some people mistake it for a bunion, which is also a painful condition. Knowing the difference between a hammer toe vs. bunion will help find relief and lasting solutions for these common foot problems.
Hammer Toe vs. Bunion – What’s the Difference?
A hammer toe (also spelled as hammertoe) is different from a bunion. However, it’s important to keep in mind that if you leave a bunion untreated for a while, it can lead to other foot problems such as calluses, hammer toes, and corns. These conditions can make walking difficult, let alone wearing your favorite shoes.
So, hammer toe vs. bunion – what are the symptoms to watch out for?
A hammer toe is classified as a contracture deformity, which can occur in one or, in some instances, on both joints of your toes. It usually occurs on the second to fourth (sometimes the fifth) toes of your feet. When you develop this deformity, your toe is bent at an angle, making it look like a hammer, hence the name.
On the other hand, a bunion is also known as a Hallux Valgus. It looks like a bump that forms at the joint of your big toe. It’s a prominent bony feature on the side of your foot, and it can also be painful. It occurs when the joints on your big toe get misaligned.
This mal-alignment causes your big toe joints to move towards your other smaller toes, thus becoming a potential cause for developing a hammer toe. In many instances, when patients have both a hammer toe and a bunion, they usually opt to have both conditions corrected at the same time.
Understanding the Causes
Other than having an untreated bunion over time, some causes lead to the formation of hammer toes. For example, certain factors like the type of shoes you wear, abnormal balance or instability in the toe muscles, and sometimes trauma can cause an individual to develop hammer toes.
- Muscle/Tendon Imbalance
Experts consider a muscle or tendon imbalance in the toes the most common cause of this foot deformity. When there’s an imbalance in the tendons, ligaments and muscles in your toes, it causes contractures or bending. Once bent, mechanical and neurological changes occur in the foot.
It causes the toes to remain in a bent position for a long time and can prevent the toe from straightening out. All the muscles in the human body work in pairs, and an imbalance can cause this deformity.
Foot injuries can also lead to hammer toes. If your toes get fractured and they are left untreated, it can lead to this condition over time.
- Improper Fitting Shoes
Believe it or not, when you wear shoes that are either too small or fit your feet too tightly, it can contribute to the formation of a hammer toe. If your toes are already misaligned, to begin with, then wearing shoes that don’t fit your feet properly can further aggravate this condition.
Here’s a bit of a warning for people who like to wear wedges or high-heeled shoes: these shoes tend to force the toes into a rather cramped position. They make your feet push the toes down against the shoe. It creates a lot of pressure making the toes bend, which can cause this deformity.
Hammer Toe Risk Factors
There are also certain risk factors contributing to the formation of this foot problem. For example, your toe length, sex, age and certain diseases can increase your risk for developing it.
- Toe Length: If your second toe is noticeably longer than your big toe, then you’re at a higher risk of developing a hammer toe there.
- Sex: Women are usually at a higher risk of developing this deformity than men.
- Age: The risk for developing hammertoes increases with a person’s age.
- Disease: Diabetes and arthritis can make one more prone to developing a hammer toe and other foot deformities.
- Genetics: You may also inherit the tendency to get hammer toes from your genetics.
Yeargain Foot & Ankle’s Hammer Toe Treatment Plan
Here at Yeargain Foot & Ankle, our team will take the time to evaluate your condition carefully. We work towards determining the cause of your hammer toe. We don’t recommend surgery immediately, and we always consider the least invasive and most conservative options first.
We understand that each patient is different, which is why we come up with a unique treatment plan for you. The treatment will also be based on the severity of the deformity. Some of the non-surgical solutions that can be considered are:
- Changing footwear: We don’t recommend wearing shoes that have heels higher than two inches. We’ll also recommend avoiding narrow or tight shoes. You should wear shoes that have a wider toe space.
- Custom orthotics: We offer custom 3D scanned orthotics to our clients to fit different shoes for daily wear or special occasions and athletics. These can help with tendon and muscle imbalances in your feet.
- Splinting/strapping: These are medical techniques that help with toe realignment.
- Exercises: Our staff will also help you with exercises that help stretch and strengthen foot muscles. Examples of these are towel curls, calf stretches, and weight-bearing exercises.
- Medications: Our doctors can also prescribe Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat the pain and inflammation. We can also use corticosteroid injections if necessary.
In some cases, surgery may be warranted to treat a patient. It’s usually a last resort often used for hammer toes that have become too rigid and extremely painful. At Yeargain Foot & Ankle, we typically recommend surgery after all non-surgical treatments have been considered.
This procedure is quite effective, with a high success rate. It’s also a straightforward procedure, which can correct and straighten hammer toes. Your physician will discuss the possible treatments with you, which may include joint fusion, tendon lengthening, and tendon transfers. The severity of the deformity will often dictate which procedures will be performed for you.
Need a Custom Treatment Plan for Your Hammer Toe?
Here at Yeargain Foot & Ankle, we work closely with you to develop custom solutions so you get back on your feet in no time and be pain-free. Dr. Agyen and Dr. Yeargain will walk you through all the options and post-operative protocols. Book an appointment by calling (214) 824-3851 or get in touch with us through our contact page.