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Hammer toe treatment and diagnosis

Updated on October 7, 2011

Whilst a great pair of high heeled shoes will make your feet and legs look spectacular on the outside, if your feet resemble roadkill after a night in stilettos then you could well be in for a problem in the long term. Don the spikes a little too regularly for prolonged sessions and you could be setting yourself up to develop a hammer toe condition. 

The problem is not just the result of high heels being worn. Many people wear shoes which are a little too tight and are not aware of how a shoe should feel on the foot when fitted correctly. Many modern styles for both men and women do not feature an adequate toe box which cramps the toes. Other genetic factors come into play, however for the majority it is badly fitting shoes which are to blame. If one or more of your toes is starting to stick out, or curve towards the others, you might be at the early stages of development

Early symptoms of a hammer toe

  • Corns and calluses on the toes or ball of the feet
  • A toe is contracted and cannot straighten
  • One or more toes bend towards the others
  • Inflammation at the joints or the toes
  • Pain in the feet when wearing shoes
  • Soreness and redness
  • Toe pain

If the condition is treated early and corrective steps taken a full recovery is possible with simple treatment programs. Left untreated and without a change to footwear the problem can become severe with new bone forming over the joints which will require surgery to correct.

John was quite a versatile pianist
John was quite a versatile pianist

Treatment for a hammer toes

Even in quite advanced cases, hammer toe treatment can be quite simple and effective and not require surgery. The most common treatments involve stretching the toes and repositioning them in the correct place. Toe stretching exercises help to get some of the mobility back, although the toes may need to be manipulated carefully at first.

One of the most common methods for treatment is toe straighteners.These devices are generally worn at night when the feet are relaxed and free from taking the body weight. It is a great time to complete the bulk of a treatment program, and combined with bunion shoes for the day it can be sufficient treatment enough.

Some toe straighteners are designed to offer maximum correction but are lightweight enough to be worn in shoes. Supported on the underside of the foot, the toe straighteners mould closely to the sole of the foot and are unnoticeable in most shoe styles. These work by positioning the toes in the correct place and allowing the feet to adjust naturally to the new position.

Simple toe and foot exercises can be really beneficial and can help to gently stretch the toes back into the normal position, and work well with the methods above. Toe separators can be used to gently stretch the toes. Different from the toe separators used when painting toenails, these devices are excellent for starting to get more mobility in the toes and encourage the muscles, tendons and ligaments to move back into the correct position.

Hammer toe treatment

Toe straighteners
Toe straighteners
Hammer toes
Hammer toes

Hammer toe Surgery

Naturally you have to give the above methods a fighting chance of success. If the problem has deteriorated for a long time it might be necessary to have surgery. Considered a last resort, toe surgery for a hammer toe is best avoided unless other less invasive treatments have failed.

Surgical correction can be simply a case of repositioning ligaments and tendons, however sometimes bone and cartilage need to be removed. As with any surgery, there are associated risks from anesthesia and there is usually a good 2 week recovery period. Surgery may involve wiring a toe in place but does not involve wearing a plaster cast.

Depending on the severity of the problem it may not be possible to restore full movement to the toe and joint, and there may be a lack of flexibility as a result. In the case of digital arthrodesis the toe is firmly fixed in the new position, and cannot be moved.

Whatever the severity condition a change of footwear is required. There is a great variety of wider footwear on the market which gives adequate support for the feet and room for the toes to be correctly positioned and not cramped. Shoes alone can well be sufficient to correct problems in the early stages, and certainly they can help to prevent further damage from occurring.


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    • ggerner profile image

      ggerner 7 years ago

      I tried toe straighteners at night when sleeping but they were too bulky to wear inside shoes during the day. After 1-2 months, I saw no improvement.

      I wish a very sheer sleeve with a thin, hard splint to keep toes straight (not those bands that look like medieval torture contraptions) was available to slip over each toe (toe only, like a toe glove) to train them to straighten 24/7.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      My aunt has this. I'll point her to your hub!