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What Are Hammertoes?

Hammertoes are painful deformities that frequently form on the second, third, fourth, or fifth toe. The condition is often caused by an issue in foot mechanics. It could be the person’s particular gait or the manner in which they walk or shoes that do not comfortably fit the deformity. This condition is described as bent and curled toes seeming to resemble the claw of a hammer. 

Hammertoes can be formed after wearing shoes that are too narrow or short for the foot or by wearing excessively high heels. Shoes that are not properly sized will force the toes into a bent position for long periods of time, causing the muscles to shorten and toes to bend into the deformity of a hammertoe. This condition can also be caused by complications from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, trauma to the foot, heredity, or a cerebral vascular accident.


Pain and difficult mobility of the toes, contractures, deformities, calluses, and corns are all symptoms of a hammertoe. 


Someone who suspects they have the symptoms of a hammertoe should consult with one of our podiatrists at Tri-County Foot & Ankle. Podiatrists diagnose and treat complications of the foot and ankle. If the podiatrist discovers that the affected toes are still flexible, treatment for the hammertoe may simply involve exercise, physical therapy, and better fitting shoes. Treatment for hammertoes typically involves controlling foot mechanics, such as walking through the use of customized orthotics. Oral medications such as anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs could be used to treat the pain and inflammation hammertoes causes. Injections of corticosteroids are also sometimes used.

For more serious cases in which the toes have become inflexible and rigid, surgery may be suggested. During the operation, the toe would receive an incision to relieve pressure on the tendons. A re-alignment of the tendons may then be performed by removing small pieces of bone to straighten the toe. In some cases, the insertion of pins is needed to keep the bones in the proper position as the toe heals. The patient is usually allowed to return home on the same day as the surgery.

If surgery is performed to repair a hammertoe, following the post-operative directions of your doctor is pertinent. Directions may include several stretches, picking up marbles with your toes, or attempting to crumple a towel placed flat against your feet. Wear shoes that have low heels and a wide amount of toe space to maintain comfort. Closed shoes and high heels should be avoided. Shoes with laces allow the wearer to adjust how fitted they want the shoes to be while also allowing greater comfort. To provide adequate space for your toes, select shoes that have a minimum of 1/2 inch of space between the tip of your longest toe and the inside of the shoe. This will also relieve pressure on your toes and prevent future hammertoes from forming.

Other preventative measures that can be taken include going shopping for new shoes in the middle of the day. Your feet are smallest in the morning and swell as the day progresses; trying on and purchasing new shoes midday will give you the most reliable size. Be sure to check that the shoes you purchase are both the same size. If possible, ask the store to stretch out the shoes at its painful points to allow for maximum comfort.