What is a Hammer Toe?

3 min read

Hammer toe is a toe joint deformity. It is often found in women who frequently wear high-heeled or narrow shoes. Such shoes can put pressure on the toes, forcing them toward the front of the shoe, which results in a bending of the middle joint of the toes.

Similar conditions, known as mallet toe & claw toe, also affect the toe joints, causing discomfort under the tips of the toes & also on the upper part of the toes.

Symptoms of Hammer Toe

If you have hammer toe, mallet toe, or claw toe, you will see an unnatural bend in the joint of the toe.  This condition can affect one or more of the toes. You may find it painful or difficult to move the affected toes, and you might develop corns or calluses because the toes rub against the inside of your shoes.

Causes of Hammer Toe

Hammer toe can result from a variety of factors.  Often, hammer toe is caused by wearing high-heeled shoes or shoes that are too tight or narrow through the toe area.  Forcing the toes into this tight space can cause them to curl, and over time, the position may remain.

You are also more likely to develop hammer toe if you have stubbed or broken a toe.  That toe will be more prone to developing hammer toe later on.

Athletes & Dancers can also be affected due to the high volume of activity that they put their feet through. If you have nerve damage in your feet, such as may be caused by stroke or diabetes, you are more likely to develop hammer toe.  Rheumatoid Arthritis can also affect the feet, causing various joint deformities, including hammer toe, mallet toe, or claw toe.

Risk Factors for Hammer Toe

There are several factors that can increase your odds of developing hammer toe or mallet toe.  They include the following:

  • Age – Your odds of developing hammer toe, mallet toe or claw toe, go up as you get older.
  • Gender – Women are more likely to develop hammer toe, mallet toe or claw toe than men.
  • Toe length – If your second toe is longer than your big toe, you have a greater risk of developing hammer toe, mallet toe or claw toe in the second toe.
  • High Arched Feet – this foot type is more prone to developing hammer toe conditions, as it can be unstable during gait, causing the toes to have to constantly “grip” the ground for stability.

Complications of Hammer Toe

When a hammer toe is in the early stages of its development, it may remain somewhat flexible.  You may be able to flatten it out when you are wearing more comfortable shoes.  However, as time progresses, the tendons in the toe may tighten and contract, making it difficult to stretch the toe out even when you are barefoot.  The toe may become permanently stiff.  You might also develop calluses or corns because the toe rubs against your footwear.

Treatment for Hammer Toe

Your doctor will assess your condition by examining your feet, and possibly by also taking x-rays.  The treatment recommended for your hammer toe depends on the progression of the condition.  If the toe is still somewhat flexible, the best thing to do is to switch to more spacious, comfortable shoes and wear them with orthotic devices.  These inserts will provide your feet with the support that they need and help to slow the progression of your hammer toe while relieving pain.

You can also perform exercises that are intended to strengthen your toes and stretch them.  These exercises might include doing tasks like picking up a towel or marbles off the floor using your toes.

If conservative measures are not effective and you are still dealing with significant pain caused by hammer toes, your physician may recommend surgical treatment.  This can include surgical release of the tendon, which would allow the toe to lay flat again, or shortening the bone in order to straighten the toe.

If you have pain caused by hammer toes, visit Foot Solutions in your area. We provide a variety of solutions that can ease your discomfort, like specialized footwear and custom arch supports.