Hammer Toes

Are your toes becoming twisted or crooked?  Do they hit the top of your shoes?  Is it difficult to wear your shoes?  Are you experiencing pain?  You are most likely developing a deformity of your toe(s) known as a hammer toe.  A hammer toe is a deformity or contracture of the first or both joints of the second, third, fourth and/or fifth toe causing it to be permanently bent, resembling a hammer.

Signs and Symptoms

Common symptoms of hammertoes include pain and irritation of the toe(s), formation of corns (hardening of the skin where there is friction or contact with the shoe) on the top or sides of the toe, and calluses on the bottom of the toe or the ball of the foot.  Hammer toe most often happens when you wear shoes that fit poorly so that the toe is forced into a bent position, such as excessively high heels or shoes that are too short or narrow for your foot.  Having the toes bent for long periods of time can cause the muscles in them to shorten or contract, resulting in the hammer toe deformity.  People with hammer toes also often have bunions or other foot problems.  It can also be caused by muscle, nerve, or joint damage resulting from conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, or even diabetes.


In many cases, conservative treatment consists of physical therapy and new shoes with toe boxes that are comfortable and spacious.  This is often enough to resolve your hammer toes.  Painful corns and calluses can be trimmed and padded to provide more immediate relief.  However, in more  severe or longstanding cases surgery may be necessary to relieve the pain and discomfort.  We may also prescribe exercises that can be done at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles of your toes.  For example, the individual can gently stretch the toes manually, or use the toes to pick things up off the floor.  While watching television or reading, one can put a towel flat under the feet and use the toes to crumple it up repeatedly.  We may also prescribe a brace that pushes down on the toes to force them to stretch out their muscles.

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