What is Hammer Toe? | Symptoms & Treatment | MedStar Health

At MedStar Health, our experienced foot and ankle surgeons perform thousands of surgeries each year, including hammer toe surgery. We pride ourselves on offering the least invasive surgical options to allow our patients to recover quickly from surgery and return to their regular lives faster. Our surgeons take the time to explain your unique condition and walk you through your treatment from beginning to end. Our specialists will always encourage non-surgical options when possible and recommend surgical options only when necessary.

What is hammer toe?

Hammer toe refers to a common foot deformity that affects the three middle toes of the foot, making them appear to be bent. The condition can be incredibly painful and may cause discomfort when walking or participating in sports. In cases where the deformity causes you severe pain or the inability to wear normal shoes, surgery may be recommended to correct the deformity. There are two types:

  • Flexible hammer toe: When the hammer toe is in the early stages, it can still move and is flexible. This type may be correctable with conservative treatment options
  • Rigid hammer toe: When the tendons are rigid, they push the joint out of its normal alignment and prevent the toe from moving; this type usually needs surgery to correct the problem

What are the causes?

Below are most common causes:

  • Wearing excessively tight shoes
  • Genetic structural abnormalities
  • Foot arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Poor circulation
  • Toe injuries

What are the symptoms?

It is important to visit an orthopedic specialist if you are suffering from any of these symptoms:

  • Pain at the top of your toes
  • Crooked toes
  • Rubbing on the top of your toes in shoes, resulting in blisters or corns
  • Difficulty or pain when moving the toes
  • Pain on the ball of the foot
  • Swelling in the toe joints
  • Redness in the toe joints

How is it diagnosed?

At the first signs, it is important to speak with a foot and ankle specialist. MedStar Health is home to experts in a wide range of conditions who have years of experience diagnosing and treating hammer toe. Your initial exam will likely include the following:

  • Medical history evaluation: Your physician will discuss your medical history with you and any relevant prior toe injuries or foot pain
  • Physical exam: Your doctor will evaluate the affected toes and may ask you questions about where and when you are feeling pain or discomfort
  • Imaging tests: Your orthopedist will also likely conduct imaging studies to rule out a broken toe and accurately diagnose your foot condition

What are the best treatment options?

If you are suffering from hammer toe that is still flexible and in early stages, you may be able to treat it using conservative options. We may recommend any of the following options for treatment without surgery:

  • Orthotics

  • Wearing shoes that fit properly across the toes and are not too tight

  • Avoid wearing high heels

  • Hammer toe pads

  • Physical therapy

  • Massage therapy

  • Stretch therapy

  • Ice to reduce pain or swelling