What Causes Hammertoes and How Are They Treated?

Hammertoes are a painful deformity that can limit your ability to walk and wear certain shoes. Learn about hammertoes and their causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Mom and daughter doing yoga together

What are hammertoes?

Hammertoe is the name given to a toe that is contracted or bent at the middle joint, which causes the toe to take the shape of a hammer. These deformities can become quite uncomfortable. Those who experience this condition may see a “corn” or redness at the toe joint closest to the body of the foot or at the joint closest to the toenail. Sometimes the hammertoe that forms at the joint closest to the toenail is called a “mallet toe.” Frequently the affected toe can be excessively long compared to the adjacent toe. The treatment for a hammertoe or mallet toe is similar.

Man Moving Hammertoe Through Sand

What are the indicators of hammertoes?

Individuals get “hammering of digits” mainly due to biomechanical abnormalities during walking. Although there is an increase in occurrence with those who have flat feet, contracted toes can show up in all types of feet. Hammertoes are also increasingly common with age. Poor shoes and genetics play a role in the development of these deformities.

An early sign may be that you have more difficulty or pain wearing your shoes. The longer you have a hammertoe, the more rigid and contracted the deformity can become. Most people realize they have a problem when they develop painful calluses or blisters on the top of their toes. In severe cases, ulceration and infection can develop with hammertoes. Other signs of hammertoes include painful calluses under the balls of the feet, cramping, and weakness. Sometimes a painful area can develop between toes or on the side of a toe. This problem can also be caused by a small bone spur.

What are the symptoms of hammertoes?

  • Painful calluses under the balls of the feet
  • Cramping
  • Weakness around the toe
  • General pain between the toes or on the side of the foot
  • Difficulty putting on shoes or taking shoes off

What hammertoe treatments are there?

Most people start treating hammertoes themselves because of painful corns on top of the toe. They try corn pads, corn removers, cushioning pads, pedicures, etc. The problem is a structural deformity within the toe, so such treatments are temporary and affect only the skin. The source of the problem is the contracture of the bone within the toe. In the photo above, the toe on the left shows contracture of the toe bones with an overlying corn (or hyperkeratosis). The toe on the right shows a corrected hammertoe with straight toe bones and no overlying corn. The use of larger shoes may initially help relieve this problem, but this will not alter the underlying bone structure problem. Some milder forms of hammertoes can be improved with the use of foot orthotics. The most effective treatment is surgical correction.

What is surgery like for hammertoes?

The procedure can be done in the office or in an outpatient operating room using local anesthetic. The choice of surgery location is dependent upon the length of time required for the surgery. Some patients prefer an outpatient operating room where sedation or anesthesia is available. If the procedure is done in the office, only local anesthesia is available. The surgery takes less than 15 minutes per toe. Through a small incision, the doctor reduces the bone deformity and rebalances the tendons around the contracted joint. About four sutures are required. The patient can walk immediately in a special post-operative shoe and usually requires minimal or no pain medication.

What is recovery like after hammertoe surgery?

A moderate and gradually increasing amount of walking is allowed during the first two weeks. Minimal pain medication is usually required. The use of an ice pack and the elevation of the foot greatly decreases the swelling and discomfort. Two weeks after the surgery, the sutures are removed in the office, and usually wide or tennis shoes can be worn. Graphic, inter-operative photographs are available of a hammertoe surgery. Are you wondering if surgery is for you? If you’re tired of not fitting comfortably in your shoes, getting little relief from pads, and have corns that are sensitive and painful, you might consider a surgical option.

Scottsdale hammertoe treatment

Every situation is unique. Consult with Dr. Burns, Scottsdale Podiatrist, to learn more about hammertoes. Together we can determine the best treatment plan and temporary relief.

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