What are Hammertoes? Causes, Treatments, and Recovery

May 06, 2024

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Hammertoes are a common foot deformity that can cause discomfort and pain, affecting millions of people worldwide. Fortunately our Foot and Ankle Surgeon, Dr Scott Hanauer, specializes in hammertoes, bunions, bunionettes, and all other foot deformities.

What is a hammertoe?

Hammertoes are a deformity that occurs when one or more of the toe joints bend abnormally, causing the affected toe to resemble a hammer or claw. This condition typically affects the second, third, or fourth toe, although it can occur in any toe. Hammertoes can develop gradually over time or result from certain risk factors, such as genetics, footwear choices, and underlying foot conditions.

What causes hammertoes?

Several factors can contribute to the development of hammertoes:

  1. Genetics: Individuals with a family history of hammertoes are more prone to developing the condition themselves. Genetic predisposition can influence the structure and alignment of the toes, increasing the likelihood of deformities.
  2. Footwear: Wearing shoes that are too tight, narrow, or high-heeled can force the toes into unnatural positions, leading to the development of hammertoes over time. Shoes with inadequate toe space can compress the toes and exacerbate existing deformities.
  3. Muscle and Ligament Imbalances: Imbalances in the muscles and ligaments surrounding the toes can contribute to the development of hammertoes. Weakness or tightness in certain muscles can pull the toe joints out of alignment, resulting in deformities.
  4. Trauma: Injuries to the toes, such as fractures or dislocations, can disrupt the normal structure of the toe joints and increase the risk of developing hammertoes.
  5. Underlying Foot Conditions: Certain foot conditions, such as bunions, arthritis, or nerve damage, can predispose individuals to hammertoes by altering the biomechanics of the foot and toe joints.


How do I know if I have a hammertoe?

Hammertoes can cause a variety of symptoms, which may vary in severity depending on the individual and the stage of the condition. Common symptoms of hammertoes include:

  1. Toe deformity: The affected toe(s) may appear bent or curled downward, resembling a hammer or claw.
  2. Pain or discomfort: Hammertoes can cause pain or discomfort, particularly when wearing shoes or walking for extended periods.
  3. Corns and calluses: Due to friction and pressure from footwear, hammertoes can lead to the formation of corns and calluses on the tops, sides, or tips of the toes.
  4. Difficulty moving the toe: As hammertoes progress, individuals may experience stiffness or limited range of motion in the affected toe joint(s).
  5. Swelling and inflammation: Inflammation may occur around the affected toe joint(s), causing swelling and tenderness.

Treatment Options for Hammertoes:

The treatment of hammertoes aims to relieve symptoms, correct toe alignment, and prevent further progression of the deformity. Treatment options may vary depending on the severity of the condition and individual preferences. Here are some common treatment modalities for hammertoes:

  1. Footwear modifications: Wearing shoes with a wide toe box and low heels can alleviate pressure on the toes and provide more room for proper toe alignment. Avoiding high heels and narrow, pointed shoes is essential to prevent exacerbating hammertoe symptoms.
  2. Toe exercises and stretches: Performing specific exercises and stretches can help strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility in the toes, reducing the severity of hammertoes and preventing them from worsening.
  3. Orthotic devices: Custom-made orthotic inserts or pads can be worn inside shoes to provide cushioning, support, and realignment of the toes. These devices can help redistribute pressure away from the affected toe joints and alleviate pain and discomfort.
  4. Splinting or taping: Toe splints or tape can be used to temporarily straighten and realign the affected toe(s), providing relief from pain and preventing further deformity progression. These devices are typically worn at night or during periods of rest.
  5. Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with hammertoes. In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be recommended to alleviate severe pain and swelling.
  6. Surgical intervention: If conservative treatments fail to provide adequate relief, surgical correction of hammertoes may be considered. Surgical procedures aim to realign the toe joint(s), remove bony prominences, and correct soft tissue imbalances. The type of surgery performed will depend on the severity and complexity of the hammertoe deformity.


Hammertoes are a common foot deformity that can cause pain, discomfort, and functional impairment if left untreated. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for hammertoes is essential for effectively managing the condition and improving quality of life. By addressing contributing factors, modifying footwear, and implementing conservative treatments, many individuals can find relief from hammertoe symptoms. In cases where conservative measures are ineffective, surgical intervention may be necessary to correct toe alignment and restore optimal foot function. If you suspect you have hammertoes or are experiencing related symptoms, consult the “Book Now” button to schedule an appointment with Dr. Scott Hanauer, our foot and ankle specialist. He can help create a comprehensive treatment plan that best fits your needs.