What Is a Hammer Toe?

Picture of a woman sitting on a bench and wearing red high heels.

A hammer toe is a condition that occurs when the middle joint of a toe becomes abnormally bent or curled downward into a claw-like position. Although this deformity can affect any of the toes, it most commonly develops in the second, third, or fourth toe.

Hammer Toe Causes

A hammer toe develops when the affected toe is bent for too long, especially if pressure is exerted on it while it’s bent. When this happens, the muscles and joints within the toe tighten until they’re no longer able to stretch out.

Hammer toes commonly result from wearing shoes that don’t fit properly. For instance, if the front of a shoe is too narrow, the toes won’t have enough room to spread out, and they’ll be squished together in a bent position. And if the shoes have high heels, the bent toes will have additional pressure exerted upon them, making it even harder for them to straighten.

Hammer Toe Risk Factors

Someone may be at higher risk of developing a hammer toe if they’ve injured their toe or if they have:

  • Bunions
  • Calluses
  • Corns
  • High foot arches
  • Tight foot ligaments and/or tendons
  • Arthritis
  • Spinal cord or peripheral nerve damage
  • A family history of hammer toes

Hammer Toe Symptoms

In addition to being unable to straighten their toe, someone with a hammer toe may also experience:

  • Pain that tends to worsen when wearing shoes or moving the affected toe
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Corns or calluses, which may develop on the tip of the affected toe or on top of the bent toe joint

Depending on how severe their hammer toe is, the person may also have trouble walking.

Hammer Toe Treatment

When a hammer toe first develops, it tends to still be fairly flexible and thus relatively easy to correct. Treatment may include:

  • Wearing roomier shoes
  • Taping or splinting the affected toe
  • Using cushions, corn pads, or other devices to shift the position of the toe
  • Performing exercises designed to strengthen and stretch the foot muscles
  • Taking pain medication
  • Applying ice packs
  • Undergoing corticosteroid injections

However, if a hammer toe is left untreated, the bend can become permanent and require more intensive treatment, possibly including surgery. Plus, a hammer toe can force the adjacent toes out of their normal position, leading to the development of additional deformities. As such, if you believe you may have a hammer toe, it’s important to promptly consult with a medical professional.

Where to Go for Hammer Toe Treatment Near You

If you suspect you have a hammer toe, the next thing you’ll need to do is find an orthopedic provider that you can trust to treat this issue. Luckily, Durham-area residents can confidently turn to North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic for the treatment of hammer toe and a variety of other foot and ankle conditions. We’re a respected orthopedic clinic that’s been treating patients since 2003, and our fellowship-trained physicians offer a stellar combination of specialized care and personalized service. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at a date and time of your choosing.