Is one of your toes (or maybe more) “stuck” in a bent or curled position? Maybe it isn’t bothering you too much right now, but at the same time you think it may be getting worse.

Chances are, you have a progressive deformity known as a hammertoe. And if you do, the earlier you seek help, the better your chances of managing this condition and delaying (or outright preventing) a surgical correction.

What Are Hammertoes?

A hammertoe is the result of a middle toe joint that can no longer lie straight on its own. The joint remains in a bent position at rest, giving the toe the appearance of a piano hammer.

Hammertoes are most common in the second toe of each foot, particularly if those toes extend further than the great toe. However, they can occur in any of the four smallest toes on each foot.

It is vitally important to understand that hammertoes do not get better on their own—only worse. Over time, the affected joint will become more rigid and arthritic, leading to more pain and requiring surgical intervention to fix—unless you seek treatment early.

What Are the Primary Symptoms?

Many people find the appearance of hammertoes themselves to be distracting and embarrassing. In the early stages, this may be the only symptom.

As hammertoes get worse, however, it may become more difficult and painful to move the toe, walk normally, or fit into a normal pair of shoes. The top and tip of your toe may also rub against the inside of your shoe, leading to corns and calluses.

What Causes Hammertoes?

In order to move and articulate smoothly, toes require groups of muscles, tendons and ligaments to work in pairs to flex and extend the toes. However, an imbalance in the strength of these tissue groups may leave the muscles responsible for extending the toe unable to do so normally.

Many factors, both inherited and external, can lead to this imbalance. They include:

  • Wearing shoes that are too tight, crowd the toes together, or place excess weight on the front of your foot. High heels are the most obvious example, but certainly not the only one.
  • Imbalances in foot structure. You may have inherited a foot shape that is more prone to developing hammertoes. If one or more of your parents or grandparents had hammertoes, you are at greater risk.
  • Traumatic injuries. Stubbing, jamming, breaking, or spraining a toe can increase the likelihood of developing a hammertoe in the future.
  • Overuse injuries. Runners, athletes, dancers, and other active individuals may develop hammertoes not only as a result of the shoes they wear, but also activities that may cause repeated, repetitive trauma to the front of the foot.



What Are Your Treatment Options?

There are several possible treatment options for hammertoes, but it really depends on when you seek help. Mild hammertoes that are not yet rigid and arthritic and not causing daily pain can often be managed with conservative treatments such as:

  • Wearing better shoes. Always opt for comfortable, supportive shoes with lots of wiggle room to accommodate your toes.
  • Wearing orthotics. If your hammertoes are the result of structural flaws or gait abnormalities with your feet, the right pair of orthotics can alleviate the stress on the toe joint and slow the rate of progression.
  • Toe exercises. Although toe exercises won’t reverse whatever bend in the joint has already occurred, exercises such as picking up marbles, curling a towel, and stretching the toe manually can strengthen the muscles to slow further progression of the hammertoe.
  • Over-the-counter pads and straps. These devices can cushion the toe against friction (to prevent corns and calluses) and help the toe to lie straight.

If your hammertoe is severe and impairing daily function, and conservative treatments do not provide the relief you need, we will likely recommend surgery.

A number of different surgical procedures may be selected, depending on your age, the severity of your arthritis, your lifestyle, and other factors. This could include anything from a simple tendon release and/or transfer to removing part or all the joint or bone.

In any case, hammertoe surgery is highly successful on average, with most people healing in about six weeks. Before your surgical appointment, we’ll make sure you are fully educated on what to expect and how to care for your feet during your recovery.

But it’s best to not let it get to that point at all! If you notice a bend in one or more toes and are concerned you may have a hammertoe, please call Sunshein Podiatry Associates at (937) 435-7477 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment. We are Greater Dayton’s leaders when it comes to both conservative and surgical treatment of all conditions of the feet and ankles.


6474 Centerville Business Pkwy, Centerville, OH 45459


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