Hammer Toe, Ingrown Toenail and Other Toe Disorders

What are common toe disorders?

The foot and ankle physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) frequently treat patients with toe disorders including the following:

Hammertoe is a deformation of the toe (typically the second toe), so it is shaped like a hammer in a piano. It often bends behind neighboring toes and can cause pain, especially when wearing closed toe shoes. People with especially long second toes are more prone to hammertoes.

Ingrown toenail is a condition when the toenail grows into the skin of the toe. Although this isn't serious, an ingrown toenail can generate pain and/or infection. Symptoms include redness, pain and swelling at the corner of the nail. If the patient cuts the toenail too short, it pokes the skin as it grows. This can be prevented by cutting the toenails straight across.

corn or callus is a common malady that is a build-up of tough skin. It becomes a problem when it becomes so thick, that it puts pressure on the foot when wearing shoes.

Less common is a broken toe. The patient is much more likely to get a sprained toe than a broken toe. A sprained or broken toe can appear red and swollen and it can be painful to wear shoes or walk.

Who is likely to get toe disorders?

Toe problems are most common among older people, diabetics, athletes and women who wear shoes that are fashion-friendly but uncomfortable.

What causes toe disorders?

Diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis can cause hammertoes because they restrict blood circulation to the toes.

Too-small shoes that force the toes together can also lead to hammertoes.

Cutting toenails too short can lead to ingrown toenails.

A broken toe can result from a car accident, sports injury or fall.

How are toe disorders diagnosed?

The physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush examine the patient's feet. If the bone is involved, they may order an X-ray, CT scan or MRI.

What are the treatments for toe disorders?

Non-surgical Treatment Options

Non-surgical treatments for hammertoes include toe caps, slings and tape that hold the toe straight so it does not rub against the shoe. An accommodative shoe can compensate for a hammertoe's protrusion. These methods do not correct a hammertoe, though.

The patient can ease the pain of an ingrown toenail by soaking his foot in warm water or wedging a piece of gauze between the nail and the skin.

Use a pumice stone to sand corns and calluses. Avoid too-tight shoes to keep them at bay.

A broken toe can usually heal without surgery. The patient may have to wear a walking cast, brace or flat-bottomed shoe until the toe heals. Or, the physician may tape the broken toe to an adjacent toe, with a gauze pad in between to absorb moisture.

Surgical Treatment Options

Most toe problems do not require surgery. But, the patient may need surgery to repair a fractured toe, a significant joint displacement or persistent pain.

To correct a hammertoe deformity, the physician may remove a small section of the toe bone in a procedure called a "phalangeal head resection" which allows the toe to lay straight. This alleviates pain associated with rubbing on other toes and shoe wear.