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What is Hammer Toe?

Hammer toe is a deformity in the foot that causes toes to bend or curl in a downward fashion rather than point forward. This deformity is typically the result of a muscle imbalance between the tendons on top and the tendons on the bottom of the toe. Hammer toes can be flexible or rigid and they can affect any toe on your foot. Most cases of hammer toe are reported on the second or third toe.

Women are at a higher risk of developing hammer toe compared to men—this is usually a result of shoe choice. Hammer toes tend to worsen over time, so it’s important to seek medical treatment when they first begin to form. Because of this, hammer toe can become a serious problem—this is especially true for people with diabetes—that could affect your ability to walk.

Types and Causes of Hammer Toe

There are generally two types of hammer toe: flexible and rigid. If the toe can still move at the joint, and the toe is still move, it is considered a flexible hammer toe. This form of hammer toe is the beginning stages of its development and it can be reversed non-surgically. If left untreated, your flexible hammer toe can become rigid, meaning the toe can no longer move on its own. These types of hammer toe usually require surgery to correct.

A hammer toe develops due to an imbalance of the muscles in the toes. The unbalance typically causes increased pressure on the tendons and joints in the toe, which when hammer toe develops. While poor shoe choice is typically the main cause of hammer toe, other common causes include:

  • Heredity
  • Trauma
  • Arthritis
  • Other foot conditions (such as bunions or corns)

Hammer Toe Treatment

Treating hammer toe varies depending on the severity of your condition. To treat mild hammer toe, your podiatrist will start with conservative methods—such as padding or anti-inflammatory medications. Flexible hammer toe can be corrected by simply wearing properly fitting shoes. Other treatments involve gently stretching the toes to relieve pain and reposition it.

If the toe has become rigid and is causing too much pain, your physician may choose to surgically remove the deformity. Surgery is performed to reposition the toe, remove deformed or injured bone, and realign tendons. Most procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and rarely require extended downtime or time away from work.