Understanding Hammer toes: Cause, Prevention, Treatment

Hammer toe is a deformity of the foot in which the toe ends, or toes, curl down like a claw. The disorder can be present at birth or may develop because of wearing poorly fitted shoes. Treatment of hammer toe depends on how severe the deformity is. This blog covers the cause, prevention and treatment of hammer toes.


Toe muscles work in pairs and when they get out of balance, hammertoe may form. Imbalance of muscles puts pressure on the joints and tendons of the toe. This pressure tends to force the toe into a shape of a hammerhead.

What is the reason behind a toe muscle getting out of balance? 

  • Genes: a person suffering from a hammertoe may have inherited a tendency to develop this problem because their feet are unstable -- they may have a high arch or are flat.
  • Arthritis
  • Toe injury: ill fitted shoes can be a big reason. In case shoes are too short, too tight, or too pointy, they tend to push the toes. High-heeled, pointy shoes put severe pressure on a person’s toes.

How do I know if I have hammertoes?


A toe that is stuck in a "V" position (upside down) is normally a hammertoe. Some of the symptoms of a hammertoe are:

  1. Putting on shoes hurts the bent toe.
  2. The toe joint takes a red color and swells.
  3. It's tough to move the toe joint.
A detailed medical exam can easily tell if you suffer from a hammertoe. Normally, an X-ray is a big part of this exam to check the extent of deformity. A hammertoe occurs when there is an imbalance in the ligament or the muscle around the toe joint causing the middle toe joint to curve.

One of the most common complaints with hammertoes is irritation and rubbing on the very top of the bent toe.

Treatments for Hammertoes:

You should seek expert advice if you suffer from a hammertoe. Meanwhile, there are also steps that you can take to get rid of the pain and discomfort:

  1. Only wear shoes that are broad and high across the toes. There must be a minimum of one-half inch space between the tip of the shoe and the longest toe.
  2. Avoid wearing heels higher than two inches.
  3. Wear the right shoes for the activity you are about to do.
  4. You can also purchase non-medicated hammertoe pads. These pads help relieve pressure by fitting around the top of the toe joint. Some come with a gel lining that can help prevent irritation of the toe.
  5. Massaging the toe gently may also help in relieving pain.
  6. Place ice packs on the affected area to reduce swelling.
Drugs that decrease inflammation can ease the swelling and pain. Sometimes, an expert will use cortisone injections to help relieve acute pain.

A qualified medical provider like a podiatrist may also customize an insert to wear within the shoe. This can help in decreasing pain and keeping the hammertoe from getting any worse. It is best to speak to a professional if you suffer from a hammertoe to find relief from the problem as soon as possible.


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