One day you start to notice that your toes hurt. You don’t know why. Maybe the shoes are too tight, don’t fit right or the heel is too high. Or, if you participate in a high impact or running sport, your toes may be pushed and jammed to the front of your shoe, but whatever it is, you continue to ignore the pain and you keep running. No matter what you do—stretching, pulling on your toes, not wearing shoes—your toes still hurt! You may be on your way to permanently damaging your toes. You may be developing a “hammertoe”!

Hammertoe usually happens if your second toe is longer than the big toe but it can happen to any toe.  As we ignore the painful toe(s) over a length of time, the tendons in the toes start shortening. If you continue to ignore the pain, over time the toes will permanently curve and the pain can be unrelenting. You will need an intervention immediately. Hammertoe can be avoided if you don’t ignore the signals.

Hammertoe 101
Most hammertoes are caused by wearing ill-fitting, tight or high-heeled shoes over a long period of time. Shoes that don’t fit well can crowd the toes, putting pressure on the toes and causing them to curl downward. The condition may be more common when the second toe is longer than the big toe or when the arch of the foot is flat, but it can happen to any toe. The toe becomes unnaturally bent at the first joint. This can become quite painful and gradually it might result in other problems like corns and even bursitis.

Hammertoe also can be caused by a bunion. The enlargement (at the base of the big toe or even at the base of the 5th toe) actually represents a misalignment of the big toe joint and, in some cases, additional bone formation. The misalignment causes the big toe to point inward towards the smaller toes. This deformity is progressive and will increase with time. The big toe can overlap and crowd the smaller toes, causing them to shift outward.

The tendons on the top of the toe will tighten over time because they cannot stretch to their full length. Eventually, the tendons will stay shortened where the toes will become permanently bent even when shoes are not worn.

Ouch! It Hurts!
•    Pay attention to what shoes hurt your feet and where.
•    Are your toes are constantly being pushed to the front of the shoes and causing the toe(s) to jam?
•    In early stages, do not ignore the pain or discomfort in the toes and ball of the foot.
•    A callus may develop at the bottom of the second and third toes. This can become an issue as the ball of the foot will be slightly raised and it may affect the way you walk.
•    Bunions will get bigger over time. If it is getting bigger, notice if your toes are being pushed outward.

What Can You Do to Prevent Hammertoe(s)?
Most cases of hammertoe can be prevented by wearing shoes that fit properly and give the toes plenty of room. Some recommended guidelines include:
•    Avoid shoes with pointed or narrow toes, too tight or short.
•    Avoid high-heeled shoes, which can force the toes forward.
•    If the shoes hurt, don’t wear them.
•    Choose shoes with wide or boxy toes.
•    Choose shoes that are a half-inch longer than your longest toe.

Toe Exercise
If you notice the beginning signs of hammertoe, try stretching your toes by gently massaging each toe, then gently pull each toe in all directions to stretch it out for a count of 3, and rotate each toe clockwise and counterclockwise several times. This is where a certified Reflexologist can help to relax the toes by using reflexology relaxation techniques such as toe rotation and toe pulling. By using reflexology thumb and finger walking techniques on each toe will help to relax them and provides other health benefits.

Foot exercises also can help to maintain or restore the flexibility of the tendons. A simple exercise you can do for your toes is to place a small towel, golf ball or pencil on the floor and then pick it up using only your toes. You may have to repeat several times before your toes get stronger. Another exercise you can do while sitting and watching TV: focus on curling your toes up and down for a set of 10 repetitions, repeating 2 or 3 times throughout the day.

Traditional Treatment
Treating hammertoe involves straightening the toe, making tendons in the toes flexible again, and preventing the problem from returning. Some simple treatments include:
•    Splinting the toe to keep it straight and to stretch the tendons of the foot.
•    If the ligament is permanently shortened, the ligament may have to be cut to release the toe. This may not be the best solution; many people continue to experience pain after this procedure.
•    Small over the counter pads or small cushions placed under the 2nd and 3rd toes for support will decrease discomfort.
•    Exercising the toes to relax the foot tendons.
•    Wearing shoes that fit properly and allow toes plenty of room to stretch out

When to call a Professional?
When you start to experience pain in your toes or feet that lasts longer than several weeks or if one of your toes begin to curl, it’s time to make an appointment with either a primary care doctor, podiatrist or pedorthist. Remember hammertoe can be avoided.

Want to incorporate holistic methods? Try working with a certified foot reflexologist or massage therapist. Tell the therapist what going on with your feet so that he/she can focus on the problem area along with any other health issues. The therapist will develop a program that will help your feet. Before you know it your feet will feel better and thank you.

After Thought
Remember to be good to yourself and buy shoes that fit. Not only can bad fitting shoes can hurt your feet, but they can eventually cause pain in the hips and back.

About the Writer
Helen Chin Lui is a certified Reflexolgist, Certified Energy Medicine and Reiki Practitioner. She is the founder and owner of the Healing Place in Medfield. She specializes in helping people with chronic digestive disorders. For her free report “Proven Alternative Ways to Heal Common Chronic Digestive Problems: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know Can Keep You From Healing” click here.

Helen has helped hundreds of people to find long last relief from their chronic pain, chronic digestive issues and hormone imbalances naturally. To find out how Reflexology and Energy Medicine can help you, please schedule a FREE 60-minute consultation by calling 508 359-6463.

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