What is a Hammer Toe?
Hammer toe, also referred to as contracted toe or rotated toe, is a fairly common toe deformity that is characterized by your toe bending upward at the middle joint with the end of the toe becoming angled downward – causing the toe to no longer lay flat. This deformity is more common in women than men, typically affects the second toe, and sometimes affects the third and fourth toes as well. Variants of hammertoes are known as “Claw toes” or “Mallet toes” and denote the joint at which the deformity is taking place.
Hammer toes typically develop over time due to an increasing imbalance in the toe’s tendons, ligaments, and muscles. These imbalances eventually cause the toe to contract and bend at one or both of the toe’s two joints.
There are several factors that can play a role in causing hammer toe, but like many toe deformities, poor fitting footwear is one of the top causes. Some of the footwear characteristics that increase your risk of developing hammer toe are:
- Tightly fitting
- Narrow or pointed toe boxes that cause your toes to squeeze together
- High heels
Some other factors that may increase your chances of hammer toe are:
- Age – you can develop hammer toe at any age, but your risk increases as you grow older
Symptoms & Identification
As mentioned earlier, there are multiple types of hammer toes and can be from a variety of causes. Without a proper assessment from one of our podiatrists you may not be able to differentiate which you’re suffering from. However, here are some of the most common symptoms and identifiable characteristics of hammer toe:
- Your toe is angling upward at the joint
- Corn formation at the top of the affected joint
- Toe pain when wearing footwear
- Bending, swelling, and redness at the affected joint
- Restricted motion of the toe
- The toe is unable to lie flat
- Foot pain at the ball of the foot under the affected toe
How To Fix Hammer Toes: Treatment, Care, and Correction
Hammer toes can sometimes be corrected through non-invasive treatment options, but may require surgery in severe cases. Advanced Foot & Ankle podiatrists always look to conservative treatment options first, and will only suggest surgical correction when absolutely necessary.
Non-invasive Solutions & Exercises
Generally, if your hammer toes are not severe, our podiatrists will simply recommend you wear:
- Looser fitting socks
- Better fitting shoe wear, which they can help you identify
- Custom orthotics (shoe inserts) and pads
The custom orthotics and pads our podiatrists fit you for can help correct your toe deformity by redirecting foot and toe pressure and relieving overall pain and irritation.
Along with suggesting better footwear, custom orthotics, and pads, our podiatrists may suggest you see a physical therapist to help strengthen your foot and toe. This should help to both correct the muscle, tendon, and ligament imbalances that have formed, and prevent the deformity from reforming.
Some of the stretches and exercises that you can do at home to help prevent and treat hammer toe are:
- Stretching – sit with your legs flat in front of you and softly pull the toes back 20 to 30 seconds at a time
- Toe rolls – stand with your feet flat, lift your toes, and then lower each toe independently, or best you can, down the line from biggest to smallest
- Repeatedly curling and extending your toes
- Repeatedly splaying and tightening your toes together – spreading your toes apart and then squeezing them together
If your hammer toe is severe and conservative treatment options have not or will not work, then surgery may be needed. Some of the surgical treatments for hammer toe are:
- Lengthening the contracted tendons and joint capsule
- Removing a piece of the joint (knuckle) to allow room for the toe to straighten
- Tendon transfer – rerouting the tendons at the bottom of the toe to the top
- Joint replacement
- Placement of metal pins for stabilization
- Arthrodesis – a surgical immobilization of the joint to allow bone growth