September 23, 2017
Hammertoe: Causes and Treatments

Hammertoe: Causes and Treatments

by Berkeley Wellness  |  

Hammertoe is a painful foot deformity in which a toe bends unnaturally and becomes clawlike. This happens because the tendons of the toe contract abnormally, forcing the toe to bend downward and the middle joint of the toe to protrude upward. Although any toe may be affected, hammertoe usually affects one of the three middle toes. The toe assumes a clawlike position and cannot be straightened out. This eventually can get painful and interfere with walking. When someone with hammertoe wears shoes, the toe is constantly rubbed, and a callus on the sole of the foot or a corn on the top of a toe develops. This adds to the discomfort.

Symptoms of hammertoe

  • An uncomfortable clawlike deformity of a toe, usually one of the three middle toes
  • Corn formation on the top of a toe and a callus on the sole of the foot

What causes hammertoes?

It’s thought that hammertoe may develop because of a muscle imbalance in the foot resulting from wearing high heels or shoes that are too narrow or too short. This probably explains why women are far more prone to the condition than men. People with a second toe that appears longer than the big toe—referred to as Morton’s toe—and who have more rigid toe joints may be more prone to developing hammertoe. You may also be more susceptible if you have very certain structural issues, such as flat feet or very high arches, or other foot conditions, such as arthritis or bunions. Regularly putting your toes into a grip position, as happens when wearing flip-flops, may contribute too.

What if you do nothing?

As long as hammertoe causes no pain or any change in your walking or running gait, it isn’t harmful and doesn’t require treatment. Seek medical attention if the toe becomes painful and you have difficulty walking. The condition is usually irreversible without surgery, but its progress may be slowed. Hammertoes are a particular problem for people with diabetes because the greater pressure on the foot can increase the development of foot ulcers.

Home remedies for hammertoe

  • Pad it. Mild cases of hammertoe can be treated with corn pads or felt pads available in the pharmacy. Toe caps—small, padded sleeves that fit around the tip of the toe—may also relieve hammertoe pain.
  • Change your shoes. Wear shoes with a soft, roomy toe area, rather than shoes with pointed toes. Switch to low-heeled shoes. Wear sandals rather than flip-flops when possible.
  • Consider insoles, whichmay also provide some comfort.

How to prevent hammertoes

The key to prevention is to wear shoes that fit you properly and provide plenty of room for your toes. Here are tips to get the right fit.

When to call your doctor

Contact your physician or podiatrist if you experience continuing pain because of a hammertoe or if a hammertoe interferes with your everyday activities.

What your doctor will do

Your physician will examine the affected toe. X-rays may be taken.

Your toe may be splinted. If hammertoes still have some flexibility, a podiatrist or physical therapist can provide recommendations to help retrain them and flatten them out more. In severe cases surgery may be recommended to correct the problem, but there is no guarantee that the hammertoe won’t return. Plus surgery may involve a long recuperation.

For more information

Also see Common Foot Problems (and What to Do About Them).