What is Hammer Toe?

Hammertoe is a deformity of a toe, in which the end of the toe is bent downward.   Hammer or claw toes arise because the muscle, ligaments and tendons that bend the toe often grow stiff from being forced into a bent condition. These muscles will adapt and overtime stay contracted and become very stiff. Initially hammertoes may have some flexibility but after time cannot be straightened.

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Hammertoe usually affects the second toe, but can also affect the other toes of the foot. The toe can actually bend into a position like a claw.

The most common cause of hammer toe is the wearing of short, narrow shoes that are too tight. The toe is forced into a flexed position. The muscles and tendons in the toe tighten and become shorter. After a period of time and abuse the toe muscles can stay contracted.

Hammer toe is more likely to occur in:

  • Women who wear ill-fitting shoes or high heels that force the toes into unnatural positions.
  • Children continue using shoes that are too small for their foot.

The condition may be present at birth (congenital) or develop over time.

On rare occasions, all the toes are affected. This can be caused by a problem with the nerves or spinal cord.


The toe is bent at the middle joint.  The tip of the toe bends down into a claw-like deformity. At first, you can move and straighten the toe, but over time, you may be unable to straighten the toe and it can be painful. Often, a callus forms on the top of the toe and a callus is detected in the sole.

Walking or wearing shoes can be painful.

Exams and Tests

A physical examination of the foot will confirm if you have hammer toe. The doctor may detect decreased mobility or pain on movement of the toes. X-rays can be took to rule out other disorders.


Mild cases of hammer toe in children can be treated with foot manipulation and splinting the affected toe.

  • Wear the appropriate size or wide shoes for comfort and to prevent worsening of the deformity.
  • Avoid high heels if possible.
  • Wear soft insoles to relieve pressure on the toe.
  • Protect the protruding joint with corn pads or felt pads.

A podiatrist can develop devices for the feet called straighteners or regulators to straighten hammer toe or you can buy them in a store.

Exercises you can try for hammertoe.

You can try gentle stretching exercises if the toe is not already in a fixed position. Pick up a towel with your toes can help stretch and straighten the small muscles in the foot.

For severe cases of hammer toe, you may need an operation to straighten the joint.

  • Surgery often involves cutting or moving tendons and ligaments.
  • Occasionally the podiatrist may need to connect (fuse) the bones on each side of the joint.

Most of the time, you go home the same day of surgery. The toe may still be stiff after this and can also be shorter.

Expectations (prognosis)

If the condition is treated early, you can often avoid surgery. Treatment will reduce pain and soreness when walking.