A Complete Guide to Hammer Toe

Is It a Hammer Toe or Else?

Hammer, mallet, and claw toes have distinctive differences that can assist you in determining what kind of toe problem you are dealing with. All three conditions deal with toes that are curved into abnormal positions, which possibly look strange and may cause pain. Typically, the big toe is not affected by these problems.

A hammer toe tends to bend downward at the center of a toe joint. It generally affects your second toe. The affliction causes the center of your toe to rise and is often accompanied with a bony lump.

A mallet toe, often affecting the second toe, is a condition that a toe is stuck downward at the joint located closest to the top end of the toe. It can affect any of the smaller toes as well, but it is less common.

A claw toe is different in it usually simultaneously affects the four smaller toes. Your toes get fixed in a downward position at the different joints in a way that it causes them to curl towards the ground.

Then, What Are Hammer Toes Exactly?

A hammer toe can be defined as a condition that causes your toe to bend downward instead of pointing forward. While it can occur on any toe on your 
foot, it usually affects the second or third toe. If your baby toe curls instead of buckling, it is also considered a hammer toe.

There are two types of hammer toes. If your toes still can move around at the joint, then it is considered a flexible hammer toe. It is a milder form of the condition and there are more treatment options. The other type is called a rigid hammer toe, which occurs when the tendons in your toe become so rigid that they push your toe joint out of alignment, and it cannot move at all. Typically, you will need surgery to fix it.

Hammer toe occurs from a muscle and ligament imbalance around the toe joint. This causes the middle joint to bend and become stuck in that position. Rubbing and irritation are the most common complaints about a hammer toe.

What Are the Symptoms of Hammer Toes to Look For?

Hammer toe is often distinguished by a toe stuck in an upside-down “V” position, and common symptoms include:

  • Corns on the top of your toe joint
  • Pain at the top of a bent toe when you put on your shoes
  • Pain when moving a toe joint
  • Pain on the ball of your foot under the bent toe
  • Corns developing on the top of the toe joint

It is advisable to seek medical advice if your feet hurt on a regular basis. It is imperative to act fast and seek the care of a podiatrist or foot surgeon. By acting quickly, you can prevent your problem from getting worse.

Why Did I Get Hammer Toes?

You are probably wondering what causes hammer toes. Some people are born with conditions that make them more susceptible to developing a hammer toe while others get them because of another affliction or external factor.

Hammer toe is commonly caused by wearing shoes that are too narrow, tight or short on a regular basis. By doing so, your toe joints are forced into odd position. Over time, the tendons and muscles in your toe become shorter and cause it to bend.

You can suffer a hammer toe if you have diabetes and the disease is worsening. If this occurs, you should contact your doctor right away.

Arthritis can also cause hammer toes. Because your toe muscles get out of balance when you suffer from this joint disorder, tendons and joints of your toes are going to experience a lot of pressure.

How to Treat Hammer Toes

Hammer toes usually get progressively worse over time, especially if you avoid seeking care.  Not all cases are the same, so it is important to get your podiatrist or foot surgeon to evaluate your condition so that you can get the treatment you need as soon as possible. Your treatment options will vary depending on the severity of your hammer toe.

1. Non-Surgical Treatment

You may not require surgery to treat your hammer toe. Your doctor may suggest one of these less invasive measures, as:

Non-Surgical Treatment


Change in footwear

Instead of wearing shoes that are too high or too short, wear comfortable shoes that have plenty of room and are flat or low-heeled.

Pad your corns and calluses

Your doctor can prescribe pads that will prevent your corns or calluses from getting irritated. Avoid over-the-counter medicated pads, as they contain acid that can worsen your condition.

Corticosteroid injections

This type of injections is administered by your doctor and can ease your pain. They can also reduce the inflammation caused by a hammer toe.

Orthotic devices

An orthotic device can be customized to fit your shoe and foot. It can help control your tendon and muscle imbalance, which in turn may ease your pain.


NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen can reduce inflammation.  By relieving swelling in your toe joint, you can alleviate your pain.


Sprints or small straps can be placed on your toe by a foot surgeon to realign your bent toe.

Pain management

Applying ice packs wrapped in cloth on your hammer toe can reduce inflammation and swelling. Gently massaging your toes can assist in alleviating your pain caused by hammer toes.

Foot exercise

Try exercises that stretch your feet as these can help restore your muscle balance. A simple exercise that can help is to pick up a cloth or small object from the floor by curling your toes. This action will help your feet and toes by stretching them.

2. Surgical Treatment

Extreme occurrences of hammer toe may call for surgery. Your surgeon will decide which form of surgery will best suit your case. Often, the surgeon may have to cut or remove a tendon or ligament. Depending on the severity of your condition, the bones on both sides of the joint afflicted may need to be fused together. The good news is you can probably have your surgery and be released to go home in one day. You will probably experience some stiffness in your toe, but it might last for a short period, then your long-term pain will be eliminated.