A hammertoe is a type of foot deformity where the middle joint of the affected toe becomes abnormally bent. Hammertoes are a nuisance for otherwise-healthy people, but for diabetics, they can become a serious health problem. Here are four things diabetics need to know about hammertoes.
What causes hammertoes?
Hammertoes can develop for many different reasons. Poorly-fitting shoes, such as shoes that are too small, can force your toes into a curled position, and eventually, they will remain in that position even when you're barefoot. High-heeled shoes can also compress your toes in this way.
Even if your shoes fit well, you can still develop hammertoes. Stubbing or jamming your toe can make that toe more likely to become bent in the future.
Surprisingly, even your diabetes can contribute to the formation of hammertoes. This is because hammertoes occur more frequently in people who have nerve damage in their feet, and nerve damage is a common complication of diabetes.
Why should diabetics worry about hammertoes?
If you have nerve damage in your feet due to diabetes, you may not even realize that you have hammertoes. This is because nerve damage makes it harder for you to feel pain or discomfort in your feet. If the bent knuckles of your hammertoes rub against your shoes and develop friction-related injuries like blisters or calluses, you may not feel that, either.
Blisters and calluses are serious concerns for diabetics because they may not heal properly. If you have poor circulation in your feet due to diabetes, your feet won't heal as quickly, and this means that minor injuries like blisters can turn into open sores, called ulcers. Poor circulation also makes it harder for your body to fight off infections, so your ulcers may become infected.
Infected ulcers can lead to an even more serious complication: foot amputations. Nearly one-quarter of diabetic patients with foot ulcers ultimately require an amputation.
It may seem unbelievable that something as minor as a hammertoe could eventually lead to a foot amputation, but don't underestimate the effect that diabetes has on your feet. To protect yourself, remember to perform a diabetic foot check every day. This check will only take a few minutes and will allow you to identify minor foot problems before they get a chance to become serious.
What are the signs of hammertoes?
As long as you're regularly inspecting your feet, hammertoes are easy to identify. You'll notice that one or more of your toes isn't lying flat like it should; affected toes have an abnormal bend in the middle joint. You may have trouble moving the affected toe. The skin covering the bent joint may be red due to irritation, and the joint may be swollen. You may also see blisters or calluses on the joint due to friction.
If you notice these signs, see your podiatrist right away, but don't panic. As long as hammertoes are diagnosed and treated early, they're not a serious problem. They only become dangerous when they're undetected or ignored and allowed to get worse.
Can hammertoes be treated?
If your bent joint is flexible, meaning that it can still be manually straightened, your podiatrist may strap your toe to keep it straight. Strapping can be done with either tape of a hammertoe sling. This will train your toe to remain flat, instead of bending at the joint.
If your bent joint is fixed, meaning that it's fused in the bent position, strapping won't work. Your podiatrist may recommend wearing extra-depth shoes so that your hammertoes aren't compressed or subjected to friction. Surgery can also be performed to permanently straighten your toes. As long as you still have a palpable pulse in the affected foot, you'll have an excellent healing prognosis.
If you have diabetes and your toes are bent, see your podiatrist or a primary care physician, like those at Rural Health Services Consortium Inc.. You may have hammertoes, a potentially-serious problem for diabetics.
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