What Is Hammertoe and What Can You Do About It?

Little did I know that wearing improper shoes could significantly impact the health of my feet.

The hammertoe-related deformity is one of the most prevalent issues.

Understanding the causes, medical treatments, and at-home treatments helped me alleviate my foot pain and pressure.

What Is Hammertoe?

There’s no doubt that hammertoe is one of the most uncomplicated foot issues seen without needing a medical degree.

It is a condition wherein one or both joints of the little toes bend, putting pressure on the affected toe, especially when wearing shoes.

Other Names for Hammertoe

Hammertoe comes with many names, including:

  • Hallux Flexus: This title is derived from Latin, meaning a toe in a rigid position.
  • Buckled toe: Buckled toe is likely attributed to the buckling effect toes have when affected by hammertoe.
  • Claw Toe: This definition is from the claw-like appearance of the rigid toe(s).

What Are the Symptoms of Hammertoe?

Most of the common symptoms I experienced with hammertoe were moderate, at best.

There are many other symptoms to consider, including:

Pain When Wearing Shoes

Unfortunately, one of the most common issues of living with hammertoe is the inability to wear regular shoes.

I had to opt for orthopedic shoes specifically designed to accommodate the structure of my feet.

They were the most medicinally beneficial pair of footwear that eased the most discomfort.

Calluses and Corns

Calluses and corns are simply defined as a buildup of skin that can often become painful or uncomfortable.

With my calluses, they developed primarily between two toes or on my affected toe.

They developed as a result of my foot continually rubbing against the inside of traditional shoes.

Inflammation, Redness, and Burning

The burning and inflammation of my feet was easily the most uncomfortable symptom I dealt with.

Fortunately, opting for orthopedic shoes assisted with some pain, but the medical intervention was necessary.

Due to the inflammation, it was incredibly challenging to move my feet, and the rigidity only added to the discomfort.

Abnormal Balance

With the development of claw-like toes, it becomes increasingly challenging to remain stable while standing.

Unfortunately, the imbalance can also cause the toes to contract further, leading to excessive pain.

Walking became challenging after my hammertoe became more prevalent.

What Causes Hammertoe?

Three primary causes can be directly linked to the development of hammertoe, and they are:

Poor Balance

The more often I stood imbalanced, the worse my buckled toe became.

Soon, it became challenging to walk, but if I were to stand, it would only continue to make the rigidity worse.

It’s essential to prevent the toes from contracting as often as possible while standing.

Improper Shoes

The most significant cause that affected me was wearing improper shoes that were poorly sized and designed.

Wearing high-heels and shoes with tight toe boxes became the most significant issue, causing my toes to crowd together.

As they were unable to lie flat, the constant curled position they were in became obvious even when I was barefoot.

Foot Trauma

Another significant cause of hammertoe is trauma, which can occur from several sources.

Jamming toes, breaking toes, or even stubbing toes can cause a significant development of hammertoe.

This point is particularly true if professional help isn’t sought after experiencing trauma.

What Do Hammertoes Look Like?

As its name suggests, hammertoes look like toes that are bent in the shape of a hammer.

It most often affects the second, third, or fourth toes and will create an unnatural bend in the middle joint.

Instead of bending upwards, the toes curl downward.

Depending on the severity of the condition, the toes might be unable to move at all due to rigidity.

This point is why early intervention is necessary, as the affected toes remain flexible at first, which is easier to remedy.

How To Fix Hammertoe

The best option I chose for hammertoe was to seek professional medical assistance because of the discomfort I was feeling.

There are also many recommended at-home solutions to try, depending on the condition’s severity.

Medical Options

When researching, I found NYU Langone Health had plenty of information about medical options for treating hammertoe.

Most nonsurgical options can help straighten the bent toe and ensure body weight is distributed evenly.

For more severe circumstances, surgical intervention might be required.

What Can a Podiatrist Do for Hammer Toes?

Seeking a specialist’s advice for hammertoe is the best possible option.

These professionals are specifically trained to deal with issues about human feet.

There are many vital techniques that they can use to assist with the healing process.

  • Tests and Diagnosis

To get the proper hammertoe diagnosis, I had to visit a podiatrist who specialized in the deformity.

My doctor performed a physical examination, which included inspecting the foot and discussing my medical history.

The doctor also measured the size and shape of my toes to determine how much they had curved.

Apart from the toes themselves, my podiatrist also looked at my calluses and bunions that had begun to form.

Another significant part of the diagnostic process was receiving x-rays, as they showed the podiatrist the quality of my joints beneath the skin.

  • Treatment Options

Podiatrists will be able to recommend a few treatment options, depending on the severity of the hammertoe.

They are the professionals that measure and fit the feet for custom inserts and special orthotic shoes.

My doctor was able to suggest specific over-the-counter medicines that help to alleviate pain and inflammation.

After my appointment, they also provided me with a list of products to buy from my pharmacy for at-home treatments.

If the patient’s hammertoe has progressed significantly, they could be referred to an orthopedic surgeon.

Hammertoe Surgery

Hammertoe surgery is often reserved for patients suffering from significant foot deformation.

It can also be an option for patients who have hammertoe due to underlying conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

The most common types of hammertoe surgery include:

  • Tendon Transfer

With tendon transfer, the surgeon will manually position the toe(s) correctly.

This treatment plan is best used for hammertoe that is currently flexible, so early intervention is essential.

During the procedure, the surgeon realigns the tendons along the joint, pulling the toe straight.

After surgery, patients will notice a significant improvement in the appearance of their feet.

The procedure should also alleviate muscle weakness and reduce pain and swelling.

  • Joint Resection

In cases where the toes are rigid or fixed, joint resection is a standard treatment.

During this process, the surgeon will cut tendons and ligaments to release the toe joints’ tension.

Likely, they will also remove a portion of the toe bone to allow for more flexibility.

Once the toe is mobile, surgeons then implant temporary pins to allow for adequate healing.

After a couple of weeks, the pins can be removed.

  • Fusion

Another option for fixed hammertoe is fusion, which allows surgeons to remove portions of the toe joints.

This process then encourages particular bones to fuse, straightening the toe and reducing pain.

Much like the other procedures, the surgeon places pins to help the joints stay in place until they fuse.

  • Amputation

It’s important to note that very few cases of hammertoe require amputation, only severe cases.

A 2005 study found that elderly patients receiving amputation of isolated hammertoes helped reduce pain and discomfort.

Also, there’s evidence to suggest there’s less morbidity with the procedure than complete forefoot reconstruction.

Although this procedure is best suited for extreme cases, it can be significantly beneficial.

How To Wrap Toes After Hammertoe Surgery

After surgery, the orthopedic surgeon will give specific post-op instructions based on the case.

A doctor will suggest leaving the existing bandages covering the surgical area until the follow-up appointment.

In other instances, it’s essential to learn how to wrap toes after surgery following these steps:

  • Step #1: Take the surgical tape and hold the sticky face upwards under the toes.
  • Step #2: Gently take the tape and wrap it under the toe next to the hammertoe.
  • Step #3: Continue wrapping the tape, moving over to the affected toe.
  • Step #4: Finish wrapping by taking the tape under the next toe and over the starting toe.

Using this process, the hammertoe will be held in the appropriate positioning to prevent bending after surgery.

Best Shoes To Wear After Hammertoe Surgery

As with wrapping the toes after surgery, orthopedic surgeons will recommend or provide footwear to be worn post-op.

The shoes will most often resemble a soft boot to prevent the toes from shifting while wearing traditional shoes.

The most important part of recovery is to ensure the surgical area is kept clean by wearing medically-approved footwear.

At-Home Help for Hammertoe

In more mild cases like my own, at-home help for hammertoe is the best option.

Often, working on hammertoe can help alleviate plenty of pain and inflammation.

I also found that most of the at-home care tips were given to me by my podiatrist, as surgery wasn’t necessary.

Orthotics for Hammertoe

The primary objective of orthotics for hammertoe is to force the muscles that bend the toe to become straight.

As the toes enter a curled position that looks similar to a hammer, they need to be held straight.

Otherwise, the condition will gradually get worse.

Orthotics are not designed to cure particular types of trauma that could be causing the issue.

For example, if the toes are bent due to broken bones, orthotics will not straighten the bone.

In this instance, a splint can be preferred since it forces the bones straight while healing.

Another point that I was told is that orthotics don’t get rid of pain-causing bunions or calluses.

They are designed to provide extra room and padding to help alleviate rubbing, which can cause swelling.

Bunions and calluses would be treated separately using medicated pads, scrubs, and other products.

Foot Exercises for Hammertoe

One of the avenues I reached for the most when dealing with hammertoe were exercises.

Although they can be uncomfortable at first, they can make significant improvements with mobility if done correctly.

A few of the best stretches I was assigned by my podiatrist include:

  • Toe Crunches

I would use a towel for this exercise to give my feet a comfortable surface to work on.

Laying the towel flat on the ground, I would put my foot in the towel’s center while sitting in a chair.

Using my foot muscles, I would crunch the towel under my toes to bundle it under my foot.

I would continually crunch my toes until the entire towel was rolled and then flatten the towel and begin the exercise again.

Although it can be uncomfortable at first, it’s essential to achieve at least eight reps and build up to 12.

  • Toe Taps

The final exercise that helped me alleviate pain with hammertoe was toe-tapping.

The central premise of this task is to stretch the joints so that they have increased mobility.

While sitting in a chair, I would extend my hammertoe to the floor while pointing the other toes upwards.

After holding this position for about ten seconds, I would repeat the same exercise up to twelve times.

  • Foot Rolls

This exercise helped me improve my balance and toe strength.

Standing on a flat surface, I would lift all of my toes off the ground while keeping my heel planted.

One by one, I would bring the toes back down to the ground, starting with the baby toe.

Depending on how uncomfortable the exercise is, try doing up to five reps per sitting.

Eventually, it’s best to attempt the exercise ten times and then do so ten more times in the opposite direction.

Toe Stretches for Hammer Toe

Stretching the toes is an essential part of remedying conditions like hammertoe.

With the help of these exercises, I experienced increased mobility, less rigidity, and reduced inflammation.

  • Finger Stretching

Finger stretching, also referred to as squeezing, relies on using the hands to create splits between the toes.

I would take my fingers and stretch each toe apart from one another by pinching my fingers and squeezing my toes together.

I found this method to be beneficial because it engaged my toe muscles against my fingers’ strength.

  • Manual Toe Stretching

I would sit on the ground with my legs outstretched and wrapped a small towel around my toes for this stretch.

Holding the towel’s ends, I would pull gently towards my torso, stretching my toes towards me.

Once I had achieved a comfortable stretch, I would then hold the position for up to 30 seconds.

Someone more flexible could also opt to stretch the toes towards the body with hands rather than a towel.

Do Hammertoes Go Away?

Unfortunately, hammertoes are progressive, meaning they do not go away.

Over time, they are likely to get worse, primarily when the feet are continually being used.

However, all cases are different.

In my case, the progression was relatively slow, especially as I began to implement exercises into my regime early on.

For others, hammertoe can progress rapidly, causing the need for surgical intervention.

With the help of a doctor, the appropriate treatment can halt the progression and begin therapy.

Can Hammertoe Be Reversed?

When encountering a progressive disorder, it can be hard to remember that it can be treated.

Fortunately, hammertoe is one of the most significant foot problems that can be reversed with proper treatment.

Whether opting for surgery, over-the-counter medications, or at-home therapies, its prevalence is reduced.

It’s highly recommended to consider changing shoes, acquiring orthotics, and taking NSAIDs to alleviate inflammation.

Also, with exercise, working the joints and muscles to become stronger and straighter can help.

However, the fastest and most accurate way to reverse hammertoe is to opt for surgery.

Why Do I Have a Hammer Toe Bunion Combo?

Unlike calluses, bunions are not a buildup of hard skin; they are a bone deformity.

In situations where the bones in the foot are out of place, a hard bony bump will develop at the joint.

As hammertoe causes the deformation of the toe bones, this is why bunions develop.

Like hammertoe, bunions can happen on their own, especially when wearing tight and narrow shoes.

Genetic inheritances can also cause bunions, especially when there’s a disposition for a specific type of foot structure.

Medical conditions, such as arthritis, can play a significant role in developing both bunions and hammertoes.

Fortunately, the majority of treatment options for bunions are similar to those for hammertoes.

For example, orthotics can be a fantastic assistance, as can wearing roomier shoes.

Conservative treatments are often preferred, but surgical options can also be useful.

Shoe Roundup

As mentioned, one of the best options for dealing with hammertoe is to invest in quality shoes.

Not only must they have outstanding quality, but they must also provide plenty of room and be comfortable to wear.

Best Running Shoes for Hammertoe

Saucony Women’s Cohesion 10 Running Shoe

With a similar design to traditional runners, the Saucony Women’s Cohesion 10 Running Shoe is a great option.

The outer material is 100% mesh, allowing optimal breathability and flexibility compared to other synthetic fabrics.

Saucony Women's Cohesion 10 Running Shoe, Grey/Mint, 7 M US

It also has a rubber material to assist with traction in slippery terrain.

The phenomenal cushioning is essential for alleviating foot discomfort and swelling during any activity.

Also, it features an injection-molded EVA sole to provide a better and more comfortable fit.

Skechers Equalizer Double Play

The most significant aspect of Skechers is that they’re comfortable for activity and lounging.

These shoes feature specialized uppers made of Skech Knit Mesh fabric, allowing optimal airflow throughout the shoe.

Wearers will find a specialized gore panel at the side, which provides a form fit without reducing flexibility.

The soft fabric lining provides an unmatched in-shoe feeling that is similar to wearing socks.

Skechers Sport Men's Equalizer Double Play Slip-On Loafer,Charcoal/Orange,6.5 W

Also, there’s a padded collar to prevent the upper from rubbing against the skin and causing irritation.

Sole padding is of the utmost importance, which is why I love the gel-infused memory foam footbed.

There’s an exceptional amount of cushioning and shock absorption to help prevent excessive damage under the feet.

Also, the outsole provides flexible traction for all types of terrain.

Above all else, I love how these shoes easily slip on, especially for post-op wear.

Best Boots for Hammer Toe

Harley-Davidson Women’s Asher Motorcycle Boot

Having structure is essential to reducing swelling and pain in the toes from hammertoe.

With the Harley-Davidson Women’s Asher Motorcycle Boot, the toe box is adequately sized to be roomy.

Also, feet have the structure necessary to prevent excessive movement and rubbing.

These boots feature a high-quality leather finish with a rubber sole with specialized traction.

HARLEY-DAVIDSON FOOTWEAR Women's Asher Motorcycle Boot, Black, 5 Medium US

On the inside, there’s a breathable mesh that helps prevent sweating in warmer climates.

Besides looking luxurious and comfortable, I love the boots’ durability, made for everyday wear.

The cement construction provides years of wear without adding an ample amount of weight to the boots.

Also, the classic silhouette is expected from biker boots with a stylish flair.

Another significant benefit is the YKK zippers, which prevent them from inadvertently locking.

KEEN Utility Men’s Lansing Work Boot

Work boots can be challenging to find for hammertoe sufferers, especially since they tend to be heavy and tight.

Fortunately, the KEEN Utility Men’s Lansing Work Boot is a phenomenal option that offers flexibility and protection.

In the adequately sized toe box, there’s an anatomically-correct asymmetrical steel toe plate.

With the specialized design, the toe box is roomier than other work boots with an obtrusive fit.

KEEN Utility Men's Lansing Mid Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boot Construction, Raven/Tawny Olive, 7

They’re a fantastic option for industrial worksites because they meet ASTM F1677 MARK II and ASTM F2913 SATRA safety standards.

The lug sole also provides phenomenal traction for incredibly slick surfaces, which are ideal for trauma-induced hammertoes.

The striking exterior is completely waterproof, making these boots perfect for all weather conditions.

Also, a membrane liner allows moisture to escape for advanced breathability while keeping water out.

Best Slippers for Hammer Toe

Git-up Soft Wide Memory Foam Slippers

As mentioned, slippers are a popular choice for post-op hammertoe patients.

The Git-up Soft Wide Memory Foam Slippers gives an incredible soft padded surface to walk on.

Feet will be able to move freely in the classic design suitable for all ages.

On the bottom, there’s an integrated rubber sole to help prevent slippage from the soft material.

Also, the breathable upper keeps the feet dry and prevents bacterial buildup from sweat.

Git-up Women Diabetic Slippers Arthritis Edema Memory Foam Closed Toed Slippers, Black, 6 D(M) US

For convenience, the slippers can either be machine- or hand-washed and air-dried.

My favorite feature of these slippers is the faux-rabbit interior lining, which is soft and soothing to the skin.

I also appreciate the thickened memory foam cushioning that adapts to the unique shape of my feet.

Compared to other slippers, I find that these retain their shape the best for a more custom fit.

Foamtreads Extra-Depth Wool Slippers

Dealing with swollen feet can be exceptionally painful with hammertoe, which is why I love these slippers.

The Foamtreads Extra-Depth Wool Slippers features specialized Foamtreds Physician technology.

The generous padding from heel to toe ensures the cushioning lasts for years and offers outstanding shock absorption.

Foamtreads Men's Extra-Depth Wool Slippers,Charcoal,7 M US

With the help of genuine wool, the slippers’ interior and exterior keep feet warm without sweating.

The hook and loop closures make the slippers easy to get on at the end of a long day.

To prevent the buildup of odor, the materials are treated with unique products that also prevent staining.

Like the other pair of slippers, these feature a rubber sole that is non-marking to protect the home floors.

Best Walking Shoes for Hammer Toe

Ryka Devotion Plus 2 Walking Shoe

When getting my daily exercise, I prefer walking shoes that are breathable and flexible.

The Ryka Devotion Plus 2 Walking Shoe looks fantastic, especially since there are multiple colorways to consider.

It also has a breathable mesh that allows for the perfect level of airflow on the hottest days.

To protect the foot health, there’s responsive Re-Zorb cushioning integrated into the sole.

Ryka womens Devotion Plus 2 Walking Shoe, Blue/Pink, 8 Wide US

Not only does this feature give comfortable padding, but it also ensures the sole absorbs the majority of shock.

Another benefit of the sole is that it has a multi-layer construction for phenomenal support in rough terrain.

Each pair of Ryka shoes is specifically designed with the female foot in mind.

The shoes accommodate the unique foot shape of women, as well as build and muscle movement.

Skechers Afterburn Shoe

As an alternative, the Skechers Afterburn Shoe is designed with men in mind.

The shoes have a combination of leather and synthetic materials for a more rugged and modern design.

Instead of opting for slip-on shoes, these walking shoes have a lace-up mesh upper that allows for a more custom fit.

Skechers mens Afterburn M. Fit fashion sneakers, Black, 7 US

The shoes fit snugly in the most critical areas by adding supportive overlays while still allowing the toes to move freely.

Also, the padded collar adds more cushioning to prevent chafing at the ankles.

The most notable feature of the Skechers Afterburn is the memory foam insole, which customizes its fit.

Whether hiking or walking on a trail, the Articu-Lyte rubber sole offers heightened traction and flexibility.

Sandals for Hammertoe

Clarks Arla Shaylie Platform Sandals

Sandals can often be restricting for hammertoe, but this design allows for maximum movement.

With an open-toe design, the feet can sit comfortably with mild or severe impairment.

The shoes are a part of the Cloud Steppers line, which provides plenty of underfoot comfort while walking long distances.

Clarks Women's Arla Shaylie Platform, Sand/White Heathered Elastic, 5 Medium US

Cushion Soft technology can also be found in the rubber outsole to provide maximum support and shock absorption.

The most notable feature in my eyes is the stretch fabric upper, which customizes fits.

Also, it’s easy to adjust the shoes thanks to the added ankle strap.

Adidas Adilette Shower Slides

The Adilette Slides come in many colors ranging from red to green and gold.

It’s by far one of the most accessible and comfortable sandals to choose for hammertoe.

Since there aren’t any restrictive straps to worry about, it can easily be put on for an assortment of activities.

With the patented Adidas Core, these sandals provide an exceptional amount of comfort compared to other slides.

adidas Men's Adilette Shower Slides Sandal, Black, 7

They have a more sport-like feeling, making them appropriate for the pool, running errands, or yard work.

Also, since they’re made from rubber, they can easily get wet and dry quickly.

The open design of the sandals helps to make my feet feel freer as I walk.

Compared to restrictive toe boxes, I have the shoe’s entire width for my feet to sit comfortably.

Best Women’s Shoes for Hammer Toe

TIOSEBON Athletic Walking Shoes

Many features of the TIOSEBON Athletic Walking Shoes remind me of Skechers shoes.

The mesh upper comes to mind, as it allows for exceptional flexibility and durability.

Also, it promotes an ample amount of air circulation to keep my feet cool and dry on warm summer days.

TIOSEBON Women's Athletic Walking Shoes Casual Mesh-Comfortable Work Sneakers 5 US Black

The outsole is comfortable and slip-resistant, which makes them an excellent option for housework and outdoor hiking.

I also found they appear to be ready-to-wear right out of the box with their anatomically engineered insole.

Compared to other walking shoes for women, these are far more lightweight and easier to walk in.

Men’s Shoes for Severe Hammertoe

SAGUARO Barefoot Gym Shoes

The SAGUARO Barefoot Gym Shoes is unique in that it makes me feel like I’m not wearing shoes at all.

They are also highly adaptable to many of my favorite activities, such as hiking, swimming, and going to the gym.

The ultra-light material is one of the most breathable fabrics I’ve experienced.

The shoes are also exceptionally flexible and lightweight, which was perfect for after completing my toe physiotherapy.

Mens Womens Barefoot Gym Running Walking Trail Running Shoes Beach Hiking Water Shoes Aqua Sports Pool Surf Waterfall Climbing Quick Dry Knit/Dark Blue

I especially liked the low top design of the upper with the combination of draw-string ties that make them more comfortable to wear.

For added protection, the shoes have a strengthened toe box that prevents objects from penetrating the shoe.

Also, the protection is omnidirectional so that the entire foot will be adequately prepared.

The SAGUARO Barefoot Gym Shoes’ traction is also exceptional because the lump lug rubber outsole grips the ground.

Products Roundup

Toe Spacers for Hammertoes

Toe spacers for hammertoes can be a great option for at-home physiotherapy.

They are specifically designed to fit in between the toes and encourage healthy spacing between each.

Do Toe Spacers for Hammertoes Work?

Although they cannot be worn with shoes, toe spacers are equally as useful as some of the earlier discussed exercises.

Spacers assist toes by stretching the muscles, tendons, and joints to a healthy position.

I found them to be most useful after work. They allowed my toes to return to a relaxed state after wearing shoes.

As podiatrists recommend them for at-home self-care, I would say they’re useful to have.

5 Stars United Toe Separators

These toe separators are unique since they are made from flexible gel for comfortable performance.

The gel is also medical-grade, which is soft, odorless, and easy to clean.

Wearing them at night is also a fantastic option, especially since the hypoallergenic gel fits comfortably between the toes.

Toe Separators Hammer Toe Straightener - 4-Pack Big Toe Spacers - Gel Spreader - Correct Crooked Toes - Bunion Corrector and Bunion Relief - Pads for Overlapping, Hallux Valgus, Diabetic Feet, Yoga

I appreciated how it helped remove tension and improve my overall balance over time.

I also found that they assisted with immediate pain relief by alleviating some of my joints’ stress.

Over time, the spacers became more and more comfortable while performing corrective assistance.