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Hammertoe Symptoms and Treatment

A hammertoe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toes that occurs when the toe is bent at the middle joint. When caught early, hammertoes are flexible and can be corrected with simple measures but, if left untreated, they can become fixed and require surgery.

The discomfort caused by hammertoes might be only be mild at first, but walking can become difficult and painful if it progresses. If the toe fully retracts, it can be difficult to straighten out.

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[Image via]

Types of Hammertoes

Flexible hammertoes: If the toe still can be moved at the joint, it’s a flexible hammertoe. This is an earlier, milder form of the condition with several treatment options available.

Rigid hammertoes: If the tendons in the toe become rigid, they press the joint out of alignment. In this situation, the toe can no longer be moved and surgery will most likely be required to remedy the situation.


The most common cause of hammertoe is a muscle/tendon imbalance. This muscle imbalance puts a lot of pressure on the toe’s tendons and joints, which forces the toe into a hammerhead shape for which the condition is aptly named.

Unfortunately, genetics can also play a role in hammertoes as the inherent structure of your bones, muscles, and ligaments can sometimes make your feet more prone to the condition.

Women are also more likely to suffer from hammertoes than men as ill-fitting shoes such as high heels can also lead to this condition due to toes being forced into a cramped position.

Other causes also include:

— Arthritis

— Injury


The symptoms of hammertoes include, but are not limited to, the following:

— Pain at the top of the bent toe when putting on a shoe.

— Corns forming on the top of the toe joint.

— The toe joint swelling and taking on an angry red colour.

— Difficulty in moving the toe joint – and pain when you try to.

— Pain on the ball of the foot under the bent toe.


If your feet regularly hurt, you should seek out a podiatrist as soon as possible. If you have a hammertoe, you probably need medical attention, especially if the condition is in its advanced stages.

While waiting for treatment, however, there are several things you can do at home in order to relieve the pain and discomfort caused by hammertoes:

— Wear shoes that are high and broad across the toes. There should be at least 1.5 cm of space between your longest toe and the tip of the shoe.

— Avoid wearing high heels

— Wear the appropriate shoe for the activity you are doing.

— Gently massaging the toe may help relieve pain.

— Put ice packs wrapped in cloth on the hammer toe to reduce painful swelling.

— Medication that reduces inflammation can ease the pain and swelling.

If you have diabetes, poor circulation or a lack of feeling in your feet, make sure to talk to your doctor before attempting any of these self-treatment options.

If conservative measures fail, surgery will likely be required to alleviate your hammertoe. Usually, surgery is done on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic.

There are several surgical methods to correct a hammertoe depending on the severity of the deformity, the direction the toe is deviating and the length of the affected toe. Some common surgical methods include:

— Arthroplasty:  Half of the joint located directly underneath the crooked part of the toe is removed.

— Arthrodesis: The joint directly underneath where the toe is crooked is completely removed. A wire or pin is inserted to aid healing.

— Tendon transfer: Performed alone or in combination with other procedures, a surgeon will take tendons from under the toe and re-route them to the top of the toe.

Stiffness, swelling, redness and discomfort are common for several weeks following hammertoe surgery. A full recovery typically takes one to three months, and largely depends on which toe was operated on.

Follow Delray Beach Podiatry on Twitter @Delray_Podiatry

The content on this website is for informational purposes only. Do not rely or act upon information from without seeking professional medical advice. If you live in South Florida and would like a consultation with Dr. Ian Goldbaum, a podiatric physician and surgeon with over 30 years of experience, please see our contact information below:


16244 S. Military Trail #290, Delray Beach, FL 33445



8198 Jog Road #100, Boynton Beach, FL 33472



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