Hammertoes Treatment

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A hammertoe is a deformity in the second, third, or fourth toes. Initially, hammertoes may be flexible, meaning the affected toe can still be straightened manually. Over time, the tendons, ligaments and capsular structures may tighten, making the deformity rigid and more difficult to correct without intervention.

Treatment options for hammertoe range from conservative measures such as wearing properly fitting footwear, using orthotic inserts, and performing toe exercises to surgical interventions in severe cases. Surgery aims to realign the toe joint, remove any bone abnormalities, and correct the deformity, providing relief from pain and restoring function to the affected toe. Early diagnosis and appropriate management are key to preventing further complications associated with hammertoes.

Importance of seeking treatment for hammertoes

Seeking treatment for hammertoes is crucial to preventing further complications, such as chronic pain, difficulty walking, and skin ulcers. Early intervention can help alleviate discomfort, improve mobility, and halt the progression of the deformity. Ignoring hammertoe symptoms may lead to permanent stiffness in the toe joint, making it harder to correct later on. Proper treatment, which may include lifestyle changes, orthotic devices, or surgery, can enhance the quality of life and prevent the need for more invasive procedures in the future. Therefore, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for timely diagnosis and personalized treatment.

Understanding Hammertoe

Definition of Hammertoe

Hammertoe is a foot deformity that can affect any toe of the foot. It’s characterized by an abnormal bending of the toe joint, causing the toe to resemble a hammer or claw. This condition can result from various factors, including wearing ill-fitting shoes, muscle imbalance, arthritis, or genetic predisposition.

Common symptoms of hammertoe include pain, swelling, corns, calluses, and difficulty moving the affected toe. These symptoms might worsen with time and can significantly impact mobility and comfort.

Types of Hammertoe

Flexible Hammertoe

In its early stages, the toe can still be straightened manually, indicating flexibility in the toe joint. This type often responds well to conservative treatments like wearing proper footwear and doing toe exercises.

Rigid Hammertoe

Over time, if left untreated, flexible hammertoe can progress to become rigid. In this stage, the toe joint becomes fixed in its bent position, making it challenging to straighten manually. Rigid hammertoe may require more aggressive interventions, such as surgery to correct the deformity.

Mallet Toe

This affects the further joint of the toe, causing it to bend downward like a mallet. It can cause discomfort and may require treatment if symptoms worsen.

Claw Toe

Involves abnormal bending at all three toe joints, causing the toe to curl like a claw. This severe form of hammertoe can lead to significant pain and functional limitations, often necessitating medical intervention to relieve symptoms and correct the deformity.

Symptoms of Hammertoe

Hammertoe typically presents with symptoms such as:

  • Abnormal bending of the toe joint, resembling a hammer or claw, as mentioned above
  • Pain or discomfort in the affected toe, especially when wearing shoes or walking
  • Swelling and inflammation around the affected joint
  • Corns or calluses on the top or tip of the toe caused by friction and pressure from footwear
  • Difficulty moving the affected toe or straightening it manually, particularly in advanced stages
  • Redness or irritation at the toe joint

Causes and Risk Factors

Common Causes of Hammertoe

Hammertoe can develop due to various factors, including:

Improper Footwear

Tight, narrow shoes can force toes into unnatural positions, leading to muscle imbalance and toe deformities.

Genetic Predisposition

Some individuals may inherit structural foot abnormalities that increase their risk of hammertoe.

Muscle and Tendon Imbalances

Weak or tight muscles and tendons in the foot can result in toe instability and abnormal bending.


Injuries to the toe or foot can damage the joints and contribute to the development of hammertoe.


Certain types of arthritis can cause inflammation and joint deformities, including hammertoe.

Factors that Increase the Risk of Developing Hammertoe

Several factors can increase the risk of developing hammertoe:

Foot Structure

Certain foot shapes or structural abnormalities can predispose individuals to hammertoe.


A family history of hammertoe or other foot deformities can increase one’s susceptibility.


As individuals age, their muscles and tendons may weaken, making them more prone to developing hammertoe.


Wearing ill-fitting shoes, particularly those with narrow toe boxes or high heels, can increase pressure on the toes and contribute to hammertoe.


Certain occupations that require prolonged standing or walking may increase the risk of developing hammertoe.

Medical Conditions

Conditions such as arthritis or diabetes can affect foot health and increase the likelihood of hammertoe development.

Toe Length Discrepancy

Having one toe significantly longer than the others can increase the risk of hammertoe in adjacent toes.

Previous Foot Injuries

Trauma to the toes or foot can disrupt the normal alignment of the toes and contribute to hammertoe formation.

Diagnosis of Hammertoe

Methods Used for Diagnosing Hammertoe

Diagnosing hammertoe typically involves a combination of medical history review, physical examination, and sometimes imaging studies. Here are the methods commonly used:

Medical History Review

The healthcare provider will inquire about the patient’s symptoms, including pain, discomfort, and any difficulties with walking or wearing shoes.

  • They may also ask about risk factors such as footwear choices and any family history of foot problems.

Physical Examination

A thorough examination of the affected foot will be conducted to assess the extent of the deformity. The doctor will observe the position of the toes, check for signs of inflammation or skin changes, and evaluate the range of motion in the affected joints.

Manipulation Test

The doctor may attempt to manually straighten the affected toe to determine if it is flexible (can be straightened) or rigid (fixed in position). This helps differentiate between flexible and rigid hammertoe.


In some cases, X-rays may be ordered to assess the severity of the deformity and evaluate the condition of the toe joints and bones. X-rays can also help rule out other possible causes of toe pain and deformity.
Based on the findings from these diagnostic methods, the healthcare provider can determine the appropriate treatment plan for managing hammertoe effectively.

Importance of Seeking Medical Evaluation

Seeking medical evaluation for hammertoes is essential as it allows for a comprehensive assessment of the condition’s impact on foot health and overall well-being. A professional diagnosis aids in tailoring treatment plans to address specific needs, whether through conservative measures, such as orthotic devices and exercises, or surgical intervention when necessary. Additionally, early detection can prevent complications like chronic pain, skin ulcers, and mobility limitations, promoting long-term foot health and minimizing the need for more invasive procedures in the future.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options for Hammertoe

Orthotic Devices and Footwear Modifications

Orthotic devices and footwear modifications play vital roles in managing hammertoes. Orthotics, such as toe spacers or pads, can help alleviate pressure on affected toes, reducing pain and preventing further deformity progression. Custom-made orthotic inserts may also correct foot alignment issues contributing to hammertoes. Footwear modifications involve wearing shoes with wider toe boxes to accommodate toe deformities and minimize friction. Choosing shoes with low heels and adequate arch support can promote proper foot alignment and reduce strain on the toes. Combined with other treatments, orthotic devices and footwear modifications offer effective support, comfort, and stability for individuals with hammertoes.

Toe Exercises and Stretches

Toe exercises and stretches involve movements like toe curls, toe extensions, and towel scrunches to strengthen and stretch the toe muscles and tendons, enhancing flexibility and reducing stiffness. While they can provide temporary pain relief and improve toe function, they do not correct the underlying structural deformity of hammertoes.

Pain Management Techniques

Pain management techniques for hammertoes include over-the-counter pain relievers, topical creams, pads to cushion affected toes, and ice packs to reduce inflammation. Proper footwear, orthotic inserts, and toe splints may also alleviate discomfort. In severe cases, corticosteroid injections or surgery may be recommended for long-term pain relief.

Surgical Treatment Options for Hammertoe

Overview of Surgical Procedures for Hammertoe

Surgical procedures for hammertoe aim to correct the deformity, relieve pain, and restore the toe function. Common techniques include:

Flexor Tenotomies

Minimally invasive procedures where tight tendons contributing to hammertoe deformities are surgically released and performed right in the office! Typically performed under only local anesthesia, they offer a quick recovery and can instantly and effectively improve toe alignment and function.


Involves removing a small piece of bone to straighten the toe joint. Can be performed open or be minimally invasive.


Fuses the toe joint to correct the deformity permanently. This can also be performed open or be minimally invasive.

Tendon Transfer

Adjusts the tension of tendons to realign the toe.

Joint Resection

Removes a portion of the toe joint to improve flexibility. Option for this procedure to be performed open or be minimally invasive exists.

Implant Placement

Inserts a device to maintain toe alignment.


Cuts and repositions bones to correct toe alignment.
These procedures are typically performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia. Recovery time varies, but patients may need to wear a special shoe, boot and/or splint temporarily.

Potential Risks and Benefits of Surgery

Hammertoe surgery offers potential benefits such as correcting toe deformity, relieving pain, and improving toe function and appearance. Patients may experience increased comfort, enhanced mobility, and reduced reliance on special footwear post-surgery.

However, surgery also carries risks, including infection, bleeding, nerve damage, and stiffness. Additionally, there’s a possibility of recurrence or incomplete correction of the deformity.

Recovery time varies and some patients may require physical therapy to regain strength and flexibility. Thorough preoperative evaluation and discussion with a healthcare provider are essential to weigh the potential risks against the benefits and determine the most suitable treatment approach for each individual.

Complications of Untreated Hammertoe

Possible Complications of Leaving Hammertoes Untreated

Leaving hammertoe untreated can lead to various complications, including:

Chronic Pain

Hammertoe can cause ongoing pain and discomfort, especially when walking or wearing shoes.

Recurrent Corns and Calluses

The abnormal toe position can create friction against footwear, leading to the development of painful corns and calluses.

Limited Mobility

As the deformity progresses, it can restrict toe movement, making it difficult to walk or perform daily activities.

Skin Ulcers

Persistent pressure and friction on the affected toe can result in open sores or ulcers, increasing the risk of infection.


Without intervention, the toe joint may become permanently fixed in a bent position, leading to contracture and further limitations in mobility.

Interference With Foot Function

Hammertoe can alter the mechanics of the foot, potentially leading to other foot problems such as bunions, claw toes, or gait abnormalities.
Early intervention and appropriate treatment are crucial to prevent these complications and effectively manage hammertoe.

Preparing for a Medical Appointment

Steps to Take Before Visiting a Healthcare Provider

Before visiting a healthcare provider for hammertoe evaluation, consider taking the following steps:


Examine your foot for any visible deformities, pain, or discomfort. Note any changes in toe shape, skin condition, or mobility limitations.

Footwear Evaluation

Assess your footwear choices. Avoid narrow, tight shoes with high heels, and opt for shoes with wide toe boxes and adequate arch support.

Pain Management

Use over-the-counter pain relievers or topical treatments to alleviate discomfort temporarily.

Toe Exercises

Perform gentle toe exercises and stretches to improve flexibility and relieve tension in toe muscles and tendons.

Foot Care

Practice good foot hygiene, including regular washing, moisturizing, and keeping toenails trimmed.


Keep a record of your symptoms, including when they started, any aggravating factors, and their impact on daily activities.


Prepare a list of questions or concerns to discuss with the healthcare provider during your appointment. Please see the next section for more information.
By taking these steps, you can provide valuable information to the healthcare provider and actively participate in the evaluation and management of your hammertoe condition.

Questions to ask during the appointment

During your appointment for hammertoe evaluation, consider asking the following questions:

  • What is causing my hammertoe, and what factors may be contributing to its development?
  • What are the treatment options available for my hammertoe, and which do you recommend for my specific situation?
  • What are the potential risks and benefits associated with each treatment option?
  • How will the chosen treatment alleviate my symptoms and improve my foot function?
  • What is the expected recovery time, and what steps can I take to promote healing?
  • Are there any lifestyle modifications or exercises that can help manage my hammertoe?
  • Will I need follow-up appointments, and how will my progress be monitored?
  • What should I do if I experience worsening symptoms or complications after treatment?
  • Are there any long-term implications or precautions I should be aware of regarding my hammertoe?
  • Are there any other healthcare professionals I should consult as part of my treatment plan?

These questions can help you gain a better understanding of your condition, treatment options, and prognosis, empowering you to make informed decisions about your foot health.

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