Hammer Toes

Hammer toes are a common foot disorder, and many people suffer from them without even knowing it. Hammer toes develop when the muscles of the toe shorten, giving the toes a hammer-like appearance. This can be caused by footwear that doesn’t fit properly, repetitive stress and trauma to the toe, or inadequate flexibility in the muscle.

A hammer toe that is long enough to protrude beyond the top of your shoe is considered a bunion. If you look at your feet right now, you’ll probably notice that there’s a slight bulge at the base of each toe where it meets your foot. This is normal—it’s called an interphalangeal joint space (IPJ). When you have a bunion, this space becomes enlarged where your second toe meets your foot and sometimes even at the base of your big toe. The enlargement occurs because bone moves into this area to fill in the widened space.

What Is a Hammer Toe?

A hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toe. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. Hammer toes usually occur when the toe muscles weaken and can no longer straighten the toe. This deformity can also be caused by shoes that are too tight or have high heels.

If not treated, hammer toes can become painful and make it difficult to walk. This problem occurs when one or more of the small muscles in your toes contract and cause your toes to bend. Hammertoes are most common in people who wear shoes with narrow toes for prolonged periods of time, although hammertoes can also spontaneously occur due to injury or arthritis. If left untreated, a hammertoe can become painful and disfigured.

Symptoms of a Hammer Toe

Not sure of if you are suffering from hammer toe? Here’s a list of symptoms that can help you evaluate:

Downward Bending Toe

Hammer toes are caused by a combination of muscle imbalance and bone deformity. The muscles that bend the toe upwards are stronger than the muscles that bend the toe downwards, causing the toe to become bent. Bone deformity can also contribute to the formation of a hammer toe, as the toe may be unable to straighten due to the deformity.

Regular Corns

The next symptom would be pain or discomfort when you walk or run on it. When you walk on your foot, you will have to put extra pressure on your feet to make it comfortable for walking, which may lead to corns and calluses due to stress on your feet.         

Pain During Walking and Wiggling

Toe pain is a common symptom of hammer toe. It can be caused by the friction of the shoe on the toe joint. The middle joint of the toe bends down and rests against the top edge of the shoe. This causes discomfort, pain and inflammation.

Ingrown Toenail

The most common symptom of hammer toe is an ingrown toenail, which develops due to pressure from the shoe on the misaligned toe.

Toes Resembling Claws

The toe becomes bent at its proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP joint), which is the joint just above where your toe joins your foot. The condition occurs when muscles and tendons contract, pulling on the bones of the toe and causing it to bend down at the joint closest to your heel.     

What Causes Hammer Toe?

Now you know how to spot hammer toe—but what causes it in the first place? Keep reading to learn more.


Arthritis is a disease that has been reported to be the cause of hammer toe, especially in the elderly. In most cases, arthritis is the result of wear and tear on the joints and muscles of the body.

This wear and tear is usually caused by overuse of the body in general and poor posture in particular. When you have arthritis, you may feel pain in the joints that you use the most. In the case of arthritis, the pain is often a dull ache, and it can intensify when you are active. If you have arthritis in the joints of your feet, you may experience pain in your toes, leading to a hammer toe.

Toe Injury

A toe injury can cause hammer toe by damaging the muscles, tendons, or ligaments that support the toe. This can cause the toe to become misshapen and stuck in a bent position. This can put pressure on the toes and force them into a bent position. Over time, the toe muscles can become weaker, and the toe can become stuck in this position.

High Foot Arch

High arches can cause hammer toe for a number of reasons. First, when the arch is high, it can put pressure on the toes and cause them to bend. Also, high arch can also lead to imbalances in the muscles and tendons around the toe, which can cause the toe to curl under. Finally, high arch can also cause the foot to roll inward, which can put pressure on the toe and cause it to bend.

Wearing the Wrong Size of Shoe

Hammertoes can occur as a result of wearing shoes that are too narrow, causing pressure on your toes when you walk. When you wear shoes that lack proper arch support, this causes an unnatural curvature of your foot which puts added pressure on your toes resulting in hammer toe.

Bunion Pressure

Bunion pressure causes hammer toe by pushing the big toe out of alignment. This causes the toe to bend at the middle joint, which eventually becomes fixed in place. The result is a hammer-like deformity of the toe.

Tightened Ligaments

The ligaments that support the joints in the toes can become tightened or shortened due to a variety of reasons, such as repetitive motions or injury. When this happens, the toe is unable to straighten out and will start to curl under, causing the hammer toe deformity. In some cases, the toe may become rigid and unable to move at all. This can be painful and make it difficult to walk or wear shoes.

Treatments for Hammer Toe

Treating hammer toe at the initial stages can protect you from going through severe pain. Consider these treatments to help with your condition.

Consult a Doctor

The first step to treating a hammer toe is to consult with a doctor or physical therapist who can rule out other causes for your symptoms, such as nerve or muscle damage, or skin problems that could require a different type of treatment. Once these possibilities have been ruled out, you should see an orthopedic surgeon about hammer toe surgery to correct the deformity and relieve your symptoms.

Use a Splint

Hammer toe correction uses splints and other forms of brace that prevent you from moving your toe in whatever way it tends to move and bend downward. This keeps your toe straight so that it does not hurt or interfere with walking or wearing shoes.

These devices can be worn constantly for weeks or months until your symptoms ease up, or you may only need them at night while you sleep to keep your toes aligned properly while resting.


The surgery for hammer toes usually involves some type of cut at either end of the affected joint so that it can straighten out and move more freely without pressing against the top edge of your shoe. This relieves your pain and allows you to walk more easily without limping because you’re trying to avoid putting pressure on your painful toes.

Exercise and Properly Fitted Shoes

Treatment for hammer toe typically involves stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as wearing shoes that have a wide toe box to allow for more room.

The best way to prevent hammer toes from occurring is to keep your feet strong, flexible and healthy by doing some exercise regularly at home like stretching exercises, balance exercises and others. If you have hammer toe, it is important to visit your podiatrist immediately so they can provide treatment options that will help alleviate discomfort and prevent further problems.

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