If your toes always seem bent and/or are painful, don't panic. It sounds like you're suffering from a common foot condition called hammertoe. With this deformity, the base of the toes points upward and the end of the toe points down. Usually hammertoes will get progressively worse over time.
Hammertoes are most often the result of wearing of improperly fitted footwear. It isn't surprising that women are more commonly affected as their choice of footwear is often narrow and with pointed toes. Our feet are rounded and wider at the front than at the heel. This means that toes are being constricted by footwear that does not accommodate for this.
For women who wear high heels or shoes that are too short, their toes will be bent for long periods of time. Eventually, this will cause the muscles/tendons in these toes to shorten, resulting in the hammertoe deformity. A hammertoe may result if a toe is too long (the second toe in most people) and is forced into a cramped position when a tight shoe is worn. Occasionally, hammertoe is the result of an earlier trauma to the toe or it may be inherited.
In the earlier stages, hammertoes are flexible. However, if left untreated, hammertoes can become more rigid and the pressure that is applied to the toes by improperly fitted shoes will lead to corns and calluses. The friction between the toes and your shoes can lead to redness, inflammation and pain, which may make walking difficult. In severe cases, open sores may develop.
The best treatment for hammertoes is prevention. Have your footwear properly fitted. Avoid situations where your toes are pushed against the front end of the shoe: shoes with pointed toes, shoes that are too small and high heels. You want a comfortable, supportive shoe with a deep, roomy toe box (lots of space for your toes!) and a firm sole.
Apply pads to any corns or calluses to prevent irritation. Custom orthotics placed in your shoe may assist with the muscle/tendon imbalance. When the toes are still flexible, splints or taping along with exercises and stretching can be used to correct the toe.
Anti-inflammatory medications can be used for the pain and occasionally a steroid injection will be employed. Surgery may be necessary when the hammertoe has become more rigid and painful, or when an open sore is present.
Allison Rockwood is the manager of Soles in Motion (www.solesinmotion.ca), located at 121 Ilsley Ave. in the Burnside Business Park in Dartmouth, 468-7911. Soles In Motion offers personalized, professional footwear fittings for a wide range of athletic, walking and orthopedic footwear and sandals. Also available are assessments by a certified pedorthist for custom orthotics. Bring in a copy of this article and receive 10 per cent off (excluding bracing, orthotics, medical compression stockings, electronics and running clinics).