What is hammertoe?

Do you have trouble finding shoes that are comfortable to wear? If you have hammertoe, you may notice extra pressure on one or more of your toes when you wear shoes.

Hammertoe is a deformity of either one or both of the joints in your toe. This deformity can happen in any of the second, third, fourth and fifth (pinky) toes. When you have hammertoe, your toe may appear to be bent at an angle, rather than straight like the rest of your toes. You may have pain and irritation that makes it hard to wear shoes.

The orthopaedic specialists and podiatrists at Main Line Health offer both nonsurgical and surgical treatment options to help relieve the symptoms of hammertoe.

Symptoms of hammertoe

Most of the time, the joint deformity that causes hammertoe happens over time, due to a muscle imbalance. Sometimes hammertoe is the result of wearing the wrong shoes, which pinch your toe into a bent position for long periods of time. In some cases, hammertoe can be the result of a trauma to the foot or it may be a congenital problem (since birth).

If you have hammertoe, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Corns and calluses on or between your toes
  • Inflammation and irritation of your toe
  • Open sores, if the friction with your shoes is severe
  • Pain in your toe when wearing certain shoes
  • Visually bent toe


Nonsurgical treatment options may include:

  • Corticosteroid injections — A steroid injection can help to ease the pain and inflammation caused by hammertoe.
  • Medication — Your doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or suggest that you take over-the-counter versions in order to reduce pain and inflammation caused by hammertoe.
  • Non-medicated pads — You can protect corns and calluses from further irritation with special pads designed to keep them from rubbing the sides of your shoes.
  • Orthotics — Your doctor may recommend a custom orthotic device that can help restore your muscle and tendon balance and relieve pressure on your hammertoe.
  • Shoe modification — Your toes will feel most comfortable in wide-toe shoes that offer plenty of room in length. Avoid wearing high heels, which put pressure on the toes.
  • Splinting — Special splints can be placed on your toes in order to straighten the bent hammertoe and help restore your functionality.
  • Stretching — Simple toe exercises that help stretch and strengthen your muscles may help to relieve hammertoe symptoms and return your toe to the correct position.

When nonsurgical methods aren't working to relieve your symptoms, or when hammertoe is severe, rigid and painful, surgery may be needed. Your surgery will depend on your specific symptoms and the extent of your hammertoe.

Orthopaedics at Main Line Health offers expert orthopaedic and rehabilitation specialists located throughout the Philadelphia region to help with foot and ankle abnormalities and injuries from consultation to rehabilitation.


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