What is a hammertoe?

A hammertoe is a deformity that occurs over time, usually by shoes that are not properly fitted, resulting in shoes that cramp toes. Hammertoe is also more common for people with flat feet. This condition affects the second, third or fourth toes, and is the most common toe deformity.

A hammertoe is bent at the middle joint, making it resemble a hammer. The unusual angle causes the joint of the toe to buckle and protrude. This causes the afflicted toe to rub against shoes. Unsurprisingly, the most common complaint associated with hammertoe is irritation, calluses, or rawness on the top of the bent toe.

When the Bel Air podiatrists at Harford Lower Extremity Specialists are able to treat the condition in its early stages, when the hammertoe is flexible, the issue can be corrected with fairly simple treatments. If the hammertoe is ignored or left untreated for long periods of time, the toe will eventually grow into a fixed position and require surgery to treat.

What Causes Hammertoe?

Hammertoe is most common in people who continually wear shoes that don’t fit properly. These ill-fitting shoes cause an imbalance of the foot’s tendons, which eventually causes the toe to bend or buckle.  Because the toes muscles are designed to work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes, prolonged misalignment or stress will cause the muscles to tighten and contract in ways that no longer allow the toe to stay stretched out.

Hammertoes are a common side-effect of wearing shoes that are extremely narrow or pointed at the toe, such as certain types of women’s pumps. Pointed-toed shoes push smaller toes into a bent position, often causing corns and calluses which can aggravate the condition. High-heeled shoes compound these effects by forcing the foot downward and compacting the toes even more. When this situation is repeated regularly, such as when women wear high heels to work every day, hammertoes frequently develop.

Why are Hammertoes so Painful?


Hammertoes can create or aggravate sores or calluses and can cause considerable pain in any type of shoe. The disfigurement of the toe (or toes) will be apparent to a doctor with a visual inspection, but people with hammertoes have watched their feet change over months or years and are often unable to recognize the symptoms. Many patients say they consider the shape of their foot and toes as “normal.”

How Do You Cure Hammertoes?

At Harford Lower Extremity Specialists, we explain the causes of hammertoes to our patients, and often prescribe orthotics or orthopedic toe appliances. A patient with a mild case of hammertoe may be able to purchase shoes with soft, roomy toe boxes. In extremes cases, patients may be advised to wear open-toed sandals that do not pinch or rub other areas of the foot.

For mild cases of hammertoe, our Bel Air podiatrists may prescribe toe exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles. Over time, these exercises will correct the condition. Our doctors will also discuss whether commercially-available straps, cushions or nonmedicated corn pads are needed to relieve symptoms.

For diabetic patients, our Harford County foot doctors will explore the implications of poor circulation or a lack of feeling in the feet. If you have diabetes, play it safe and talk to one of our doctors before trying self-treatment.

For extreme cases, surgery may be required to correct hammertoe. The specifics of the procedure are dependent on the type and extent of the condition.

Our Bel Air podiatrists will also talk to you about proper post-operative care, which may include rest and exercises to help you ease back into normal walking.