Even though they are “built to last a lifetime,” foot problems are one of our most common medical ailments. It has been estimated that 80-85% of the general population will suffer from a foot complaint at some time in their life. This is second in frequency only to dental problems.
A hammertoe is a bent toe (either rigid or flexible) that makes the top of the toe very prominent. The toe bends at the joint area and the tendon which connects the muscle to the bone tightens. This is noted by the prominence of the band-like structures on the top of the foot that run to each toe. If the toe is allowed to remain bent, bone changes may occur, and the toe may become rigid at the joint. If the toe is corrected while still in the flexible stage, a simple soft tissue tendon release will eliminate the problem, and no bone work may be necessary. As the toe becomes more bent and less flexible, the abnormal growth of bone will be removed during the correction. This will allow for straightening and often more normal function of the joint. Since the bony prominence is gone and the toe is straightened, the shoe pressure will be alleviated and the corn will disappear permanently.
A corn is a thickening of the skin, usually over the prominent part of the hammertoe, but corns can occur over any bony prominence on the toe. A corn can be hard or soft depending on the location. If it is located on top of the toe, it is usually hard; and if it is located between the toes, it is usually soft and is often confused with athlete’s foot. A corn develops due to friction and rubbing of the bony prominence or bone spur on a shoe or on the adjacent toe. It is important to note that while shoes aggravate a corn, the actual cause is the malfunctioning of the toes.
As the corn gets thicker, it produces more pressure on the underlying bone and soft tissue, which increases pain. If the pressure gets severe enough, an ulcer or infection may occur under the corn, especially in a person with impaired circulation such as a diabetic.