Hammertoe Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Painful foot conditions can be brought on by a variety of reasons: poor footwear, muscle imbalance, overuse, etc. At Rebound, our board-certified foot and ankle surgeons treat a variety of these conditions, including hammertoe.

Our team offers the most advanced foot and ankle care in the Portland metropolitan area, using the latest techniques in foot surgery to improve your recovery. Dr. Jay L. Crary, Rebound foot and ankle surgeon, has extensive expertise in treating deformities like hammertoe. Learn more about hammertoe, what causes it and what treatments are available below.

What is Hammertoe?

Hammertoe is foot deformity that typically affects second, third or fourth toes. The condition is called hammertoe because of the unnatural position your toes form.

“Hammertoe causes your toe to bend upward at the middle joint in a way that looks similar to a hammer,” says Dr. Crary.

“While it may not be painful at first, this condition usually worsens with time and it becomes difficult to extend your toes. Sometimes, calluses or corns form in association with hammertoe.”

What Causes Hammertoe?

Poorly fitting shoes and muscle imbalances are the most common causes of hammertoe. When shoes are too narrow or do not accommodate the shape and size of your feet, they often contort the position of your toes.

“Choosing a shoe that fits is very important when it comes to avoiding foot problems like bunions or hammertoe,” says Dr. Crary. “Having your toes bent for an extended period of time in a shoe that is too narrow or small forces your toes to adapt to the cramped space. With time, the muscles in your feet become accustomed to holding the flexed position of your toes, making it harder, or even impossible to straighten them.”

What are Common Symptoms of Hammertoe?

Symptoms tend to be mild at first, but worsen with time when left untreated. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Toe pain when wearing closed-toe shoes
  • Inflammation
  • Corns and/or calluses
  • Bending of the second, third or fourth toes
  • Stiffness

How Do You Prevent Hammertoe?

The best first step you can take is to evaluate your shoe choices.

“Ditch any shoes that aren’t serving your feet well,” says Dr. Crary. “Shoes that crowd the front of your foot, especially around your toes, aggravate the existing condition and can also cause the condition to develop.”

If you suspect the development of hammertoe, you may also try using protective pads to prevent irritation and the development of corns. Custom orthotics to correct muscle imbalances in your feet may also help prevent hammertoe.

How is Hammertoe Treated?

Our foot and ankle specialists first explore non-surgical treatment methods for conditions such as hammertoe. Depending on the severity of the condition, surgery may be suggested.

Non-surgical methods may include altering your footwear and opting for shoes with a larger toe box, wearing custom orthotics, splinting or injection therapy.

“If these methods do not yield results, or the patient’s condition is severe, hammertoe surgery may be necessary,” says Dr. Crary. “In this outpatient procedure, we may either reroute tendons in the toe, cut the tendons and remove a portion of the affected joint, or implant pins or screws to straighten the toe. The extent of surgery depends on the patient’s condition.”


Rebound Foot Resources:

Foot & Ankle Surgery

Bunion Correction & Surgery

Athletic Shoes: How to Find the Proper Fit

Other Trusted Resources:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) – Hammer Toe

American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS) – Hammertoe Surgery

Foot Health Facts – Hammer Toe

AOFAS – Footwear