Hammer toes: Painful but treatable

Hammer toes

The position of a toe is not the same in everyone and some cases toes are in a crooked fixed position. This can be a symptom of hammer toes, also known as claw toes. But what exactly are hammer toes? What is the cause and what effective treatments are available to provide relief.


What are hammer toes?

Hammer toes, is a condition in which one or more toes remain in a crooked position. The phalanges bend down unnaturally, making the toe look like a hammer. This can lead to discomfort, pain and difficulty in finding suitable footwear. The fusion can occur in any toe, but is most common in the second, third, fourth and fifth toes.

Cause of Hammer toes

Hammer toes are a common foot deformity in which one or more toes show abnormal flexion or curvature. But what causes this condition? Understanding the causes can help prevent and treat hammer toes.

Difference between normal toe and hammertoe

Shoes that don’t fit properly: Wearing shoes that are too tight, especially shoes that do not provide enough room for the toes, can lead to the development of hammertoes. High heels, which push the forefoot forward in a tight toe box, can also increase the risk.

Muscle imbalances: Hammer toes can result from an imbalance between the muscles that flex and extend the toes. When the muscle that bends a toe becomes stronger than the muscle that extends it, a hammertoe can develop.

Heredity: Some people have a genetic predisposition to hammer toes. If family members have hammer toes, the risk of developing them may be higher.

Trauma to the toe: A direct injury to the toe, such as bumping or breaking it, can lead to the development of hammertoes.

Medical conditions: Diseases such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis may increase the risk of foot deformities, including hammer toes.

Age: As people age, the connective tissue in the foot becomes less flexible, which can lead to the development of hammer toes.

High foot arch: People with a naturally high foot arch may be at greater risk of developing hammer toes.

Neurological disorders: Conditions that affect the nerves or muscles in the feet, such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, can contribute to the development of hammertoes.

The cause of hammer toes can range from external factors such as footwear to internal factors such as muscular imbalances or genetic predispositions. It is essential to understand the specific cause to identify effective preventive measures and treatments. If you notice signs of hammertoes or are at increased risk of developing them, it may be helpful to consult with a podiatrist or orthopedic specialist.

Symptoms of Hammer toes

Hammer toes are a foot condition in which one or more toes exhibit abnormal flexion or curvature, often resulting in a toe that resembles a hammer. Recognizing the symptoms can help with timely diagnosis and initiation of appropriate treatment. Here are the most common symptoms of hammer toes:

Abnormal Curvature of the Toe: This is the most recognizable symptom. The toe, often the second, third or fourth, bends at the middle joint, resulting in a curve similar to the head of a hammer.

Pain or Discomfort: People with hammertoes may experience pain at the top of the bent toe, especially when wearing shoes that rub against the toe. Over time, the pain may worsen, especially when walking or standing.

Calluses and Corns: Constant friction between the toe and the shoe can cause calluses or corns to form on the top or tip of the toe.

Limited Movement: In some cases, the toe may become stiff, resulting in limited or painful movement. This can make daily activities such as walking difficult.

Redness and Swelling: The affected area may become red and swollen, especially if there is too much pressure or friction on the toe.

Other Foot Deformities: It is not uncommon for people with hammer toes to also have other foot abnormalities, such as claw toes, in which both the first and second joints of the toe bend.

Ball of the Foot Pain: The toe can point downward, putting extra pressure on the ball of the foot, which can cause pain.

The symptoms of hammer toes can vary, but may include the following:

Medical image example of hammer toe, claw toe and curl toe

Hammer toes are not just a cosmetic problem; they can also lead to significant discomfort and pain. If you notice some of the above symptoms, it is important to seek medical advice. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent further complications and improve foot comfort and function.

Treatment methods for hammer toes

Fortunately, there are several treatment methods available to relieve symptoms and correct toe position and improve functionality.

Conservative treatment

Shoe advice: Wearing the right shoes is crucial. Choose wide-toed shoes and avoid tight or high heels. Special orthopedic shoes are also available that provide more room for the toes.

Orthotics: These are custom-made insoles that support the foot and reduce pressure on hammer toes. They can help restore normal foot function and reduce pain.

Toe guards: Silicone or foam guards can be placed over the hammertoe to reduce pressure and friction from shoes.

Exercises: Specific foot exercises can help strengthen muscles and increase toe flexibility. For example, stretching and bending the toes or picking up small objects with the toes.


Anti-inflammatory analgesics such as ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling. Be sure to consult with a doctor before taking any medication, especially if you are already taking other medications.


In some cases, corticosteroid injections can be administered directly into the hammertoe joint to reduce inflammation and pain. It is important to remember that this is usually a temporary solution.


If conservative treatments are not effective or if the hammertoe is severely deformed, surgery may be necessary. There are different surgical procedures depending on the severity and cause of the hammertoe. A common procedure is to loosen or remove the connective tissue and tendons that hold the toe in its bent position.

It is important to consult a qualified podiatrist, podiatrist or physician for an accurate diagnosis and to determine the best treatment option for your particular situation.

Hammer toes, also known as claw toes, can cause discomfort and pain. They result from an imbalance in the muscles and tendons around the toes, often combined with other factors such as ill-fitting footwear. Fortunately, several treatment options are available, including shoe and orthopedic adjustments, physical therapy and surgical procedures. It is important to consult a qualified medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and customized treatment plan. Timely intervention and appropriate treatment can reduce the symptoms of hammertoes and improve the functionality of the feet.


What can I do myself to prevent hammer toes?


While it is not always possible to completely prevent hammer toes, there are measures you can take to reduce the risk. Wear shoes that fit well, provide adequate toe room and have a low heel. Avoid wearing shoes that are too narrow or those with high heels that force the toes into an unnatural position. It is also important to do regular exercises to strengthen the muscles and tendons in the feet and toes.


Is surgery always necessary to treat hammertoes?


No, surgery is not always necessary to treat hammer toes. In many cases, conservative treatments such as adjusting footwear, using orthopedic devices and physical therapy can provide sufficient relief. Surgery is usually considered only when symptoms are severe and other treatment options have not proven effective.


How long does recovery take after surgery for hammertoes?


Recovery time after surgery for hammertoes can vary, depending on the complexity of the procedure and individual response to treatment. Generally, it takes several weeks to months before full recovery is achieved. During this period, you should follow the doctor’s instructions, take medication as prescribed and perform any physical therapy exercises. It is important to give the foot adequate rest and avoid excessive pressure on the toes.

Always consult your doctor for specific guidelines regarding the recovery process and use of assistive devices during the recovery period.


Can I treat hammer toes myself without medical attention?


Although there are some self-care measures that can help relieve mild symptoms of hammertoes, such as wearing comfortable footwear and performing regular toe exercises, it is advisable to consult a medical professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment advice. A qualified physician can assess the severity of the condition and recommend the most appropriate treatment.


How long does it take before I notice improvement after starting treatment?


The time it takes to experience improvement after starting treatment for hammer toes varies from person to person. In mild cases, regular use of orthopedic devices and adjustment of footwear can quickly provide relief. More severe cases may take some time to notice significant improvement, especially with conservative treatments. It is important to be patient and regularly discuss progress with your doctor.


Can hammer toes come back after treatment?


In some cases, hammer toes may return after treatment, especially if the underlying cause is not fully addressed. It is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations, such as wearing appropriate footwear and doing regular exercises, to reduce the risk of recurrent hammertoes. It may also be necessary to receive long-term follow-up and care to monitor progress and prevent any relapse.

Always consult a medical professional for accurate diagnosis, treatment and guidance regarding hammer toes. Each individual is unique and requires a personalized approach for best results.