What is hammer toe?
A hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toes. The toe is bent at the middle joint so that it resembles a hammer.
If you have a hammer toe, the symptoms are visible with the hammer-like curling toe.
Other symptoms include:
- Pain in the affected toe, especially when wearing shoes that rub on the joint
- Corns and callouses on the middle joint or tip of the toe
- Swelling or redness
- Inability to straighten the toe
Hammer toe may be caused by shoes that don’t fit properly. Narrow shoes can push the toes into and over each other. High heels force the foot forward, increasing pressure and bending the toes. Women are more likely than men to develop hammer toe.
The muscles, tendon and ligaments work together to bend and straight the toes. If there is an imbalance in the muscles around the middle toe joint, the muscles may not be able to straighten the toe, resulting in hammer toe.
If I had a hammer toe, what would I do?
Start with conservative treatment such as new shoes with roomy toe boxes. You may find a shoe with a deep toe box that accommodates the hammer toe and does not irritate the joint where the toe bends. Avoid wearing tight, narrow, high heels.
Your DOC orthopedist or physical therapist may prescribe toe exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles. You can use your toes to pick things up off the floor, roll a ball or crumple a towel. Cushions or corn pads may relieve symptoms. If you have diabetes, poor circulation or lack of feeling in your feet, talk to your DOC specialist before attempting any self-treatment.
Hammer toe is usually obvious during a foot exam. However, the DOC PA or surgeon may order X-rays of the foot to see the bone structure. Hammer toe is progressive and worsens over time. If not promptly treated, the toe joint may become fixed in a bent position and require surgery to straighten it. The surgical procedure depends on the extent of the deformity.
After surgery, there may be some stiffness and swelling. You will be able to walk, but should not plan long hikes while the toe heals. When you take short walks during recovery, choose proper footwear. That’s what I would do if I had a hammer toe.
For information about other foot conditions treated by DOC, visit our conditions page below: