Is a Hammer Toe?
A hammer toe is a deformity that causes your toe to bend or curl
downward instead of pointing forward. This deformity can affect any toe on your
foot. It most often affects the second or third toe. Although a hammer toe may
be present at birth, it usually develops over time due to wearing ill-fitting
shoes, such as tight, pointed heels, or arthritis. In most cases, a hammer toe
condition is treatable.
Causes a Hammer Toe to Form?
Your toe contains two joints that allow it to bend at the middle
and bottom. A hammer toe occurs when the middle joint becomes dislocated.
Common causes of this joint dislocation include:
- a traumatic toe injury
- an unusually high foot arch
- wearing shoes that don’t fit properly
- tightened ligaments or tendons in the foot
- pressure from a bunion, which is when your big
toe points inward toward your second toe
Spinal cord or peripheral nerve damage may cause all of your toes
to curl downward.
Factors for a Hammer Toe
Certain risk factors increase your likelihood of developing a
hammer toe. These include:
- a family history of hammer toe
- chronically wearing tight or pointy-toed shoes
- having calluses, bunions, or corns, which are
thickened layers of skin caused by prolonged and repeated friction
Wearing shoes that are too small can force the joint of your toes
into a dislocated position. This makes it impossible for your muscles to
stretch out. Over time, the practice of wearing improperly fitting shoes
increases your risk of developing:
- hammer toes
A hammer toe causes you discomfort when you walk. It can also
cause you pain when you try to stretch or move the affected toe or those around
it. Hammer toe symptoms may be mild or severe.
- a toe that bends downward
- corns or calluses
- difficulty walking
- inability to flex your foot or wiggle your toes
- claw-like toes
See your doctor or podiatrist right away if you develop any of
Is a Hammer Toe Diagnosed?
A doctor can usually diagnose a hammer toe during a physical exam.
Imaging tests, such as X-rays, may be necessary if you’ve had a bone, muscle,
or ligament injury in your toe.
Is a Hammer Toe Treated?
The severity of your condition determines the treatment options
for a hammer toe.
Treatment for a Mild Hammer Toe
You can correct a hammer toe caused by inappropriate footwear by
wearing properly fitting shoes. If a high arch caused the condition, wearing
toe pads or insoles in your shoes can help. These pads work by shifting your
toe’s position, which relieves pain and corrects the appearance of your toe.
You can usually use over-the-counter (OTC) cushions, pads, or
medications to treat bunions and corns. However, if they’re painful or if they
cause your toes to become deformed, your doctor may opt to surgically remove
Don’t pop any blisters on your toes. Popping blisters can cause
pain and infection. Use OTC creams and cushions to relieve pain and keep
blisters from rubbing against the inside of your shoes.
Gently stretching your toes can also help relieve pain and
reposition the affected toe.
Treatment for a Severe Hammer Toe
If you’re unable to flex your toe, surgery is the only option to
restore movement. Surgery can reposition the toe, remove deformed or injured
bone, and realign your tendons. Surgery is normally done on an outpatient
basis, so you can return home on the day of your surgery.
Can I Avoid Getting a Hammer Toe?
The best hammer toe prevention tip is to wear properly fitting
shoes. If your shoes feel too snug, go to your local shoe store and have the
length and width of your feet measured.
If you wear high heels, the heel height should be 2 inches or
less. Wearing shoes with high heels increases the pressure on your toes and
causes them to bend. It can also cause the formation of corns and a high arch.
Can I Expect After Treatment?
After treating the cause of your hammer toe, it usually goes away
without complications. However, waiting too long to seek treatment can cause
your surrounding toes to become deformed as the hammer toe forces them out of
position. It’s best to get treatment as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed.