Navigating Your Way Through Common Women's Health Issues

Hammer Toe In Rugby Players: What Causes It And How Can It Be Treated?

It's no secret that playing rugby can be pretty brutal on your body, and the feet of rugby players are particularly vulnerable to suffering injuries during an intense match. Many rugby players suffer from chronic foot conditions, such as bunions and Achilles tendonitis. Hammertoe is a particularly common and debilitating problem in rugby players, both amateur and professional, and any rugby player who suffers from this condition should visit a podiatrist as soon as possible for professional treatment and correction.

What is hammertoe?

Hammertoe is a deformity of one or more toes on the feet (the second and third toes are more commonly affected) that causes the toe to bend downwards at its middle joint, forming a distinctive, hammer-like shape. This deformity generally becomes more pronounced and severe over time, and advanced hammertoe can cause the toe to bend at a sharp downward angle.

As you can imagine, hammertoe can become excruciatingly painful if the condition is allowed to progress too far. Badly deformed toes can also make it more difficult to walk and run on the affected foot and may cause you to suffer from other problems related to improper walking gait, such as plantar fasciitis. The deformed toe can also become badly corned and callused, especially if you wear tight-fitting shoes.

What causes hammertoe in rugby players?

Hammertoe often occurs after a damaged toe heals improperly, as scar tissue formed around the toe joints causes the toe to bend abnormally. This makes it a particularly common problem in rugby players, who frequently suffer minor injuries to the toes. Hookers, five-eights and other players who frequently hook and kick the ball with their feet are particularly vulnerable to suffering from hammertoe, as a stiff rugby ball can cause minor, barely noticeable injuries to the toes that can gradually develop into hammertoe.

However, rugby players who suffer from hammertoe should also consider other potential causes. Some people are simply more genetically prone to developing hammertoe and may suffer from severe cases after comparatively minor injuries. Tight, ill-fitting rugby boots can also lead to hammertoe, as well as boots fitted with improper studs. Hammertoe can also be caused by underlying conditions that you may not be aware of, such as arthritis.

How can hammertoe in rugby players be treated?

If you are a rugby player suffering from hammertoe, you should arrange an appointment with a podiatrist as quickly as possible and before you get back on the pitch. Hammertoe's early stages, when the toe is still relatively flexible, can be corrected by a podiatrist using conservative measures. However, once the toe has developed a sharp bend and become very stiff, it can only be corrected with intensive surgery. 

To correct mild and moderate cases of hammertoe, your podiatrist can use a number of non-invasive measures. Custom-made, orthotic shoe inserts can help bend the toe back into a more natural position over time and can be fitted to both your rugby boots and the footwear you wear day-to-day. Podiatrists can also help you with stretching and strengthening exercises that can help repair the damaged toe and eliminate scar tissue that may be causing the deformation.

Podiatrists can also help ease the symptoms of your hammertoe if it has become painful or is inhibiting your mobility. Painkillers and steroids can be administered short-term to reduce pain and increase flexibility. Some podiatrists also offer other pain management therapies, such as acupuncture and ultrasound therapy.