What Are Hammertoes?

A hammertoe occurs from a muscle and ligament imbalance around the toe joint which causes the middle joint of the toe to bend and become stuck in this position. The most common complaint caused by hammertoes is the rubbing and irritation that occurs on the top of the bent toe – which can result in corns, calluses and blisters.

Toes that curl rather than buckle — most commonly the baby toe — are also considered hammertoes.

  • Hammertoes can occur in any toe. But women are more likely to get pain associated with hammertoes than men, because of the shoe styles they wear (…yep – stilettos are one of the culprits….)

  • Hammertoes can become a serious problem in people with diabetes or poor circulation. People with these conditions should see a podiatrist at the first sign of trouble.

There are two types of hammertoes:

  1. Flexible hammertoes. If the toe still can be moved at the joint, it’s a flexible hammertoe. That’s good, because this is an earlier, milder form of the problem. There may be several treatment options.

  2. Rigid hammertoes. If the tendons in the toe become rigid, they press the joint out of alignment. At this stage, the toe can’t be moved. It usually means that surgery is needed.

What Causes Hammertoes?

The muscles of each toe work in pairs. When the toe muscles get out of balance, a hammertoe can form. Muscle imbalance puts a lot of pressure on the toe’s tendons and joints. This pressure forces the toe into a hammerhead shape.

There are three main causes::

  1. Genes: You may have inherited a tendency to develop hammertoes because your feet are genetically somewhat unstable — they may be flat or have a high arch.

  2. Arthritis

  3. Ill-fitting shoes – which are the main culprits. If shoes are too tight, too short, or too pointy, they push the toes out of shape and out of balance. Pointy, high-heeled shoes put particularly severe pressure on the toes. (…those stilletos again)

Symptoms of Hammertoes include:

  • Shoe hurt the top of the bent toe

  • Corns, calluses r blisters form on the top of the toe joint.

  • The toe joint swells and takes on an angry red color.

  • It’s hard to move the toe joint — and it hurts when you try.

  • The ball of the foot under the bent toe hurts.

Understanding Hammertoes — Prevention

Preventing foot problems, including hammertoes, is often a matter of wearing the right shoes and taking care of your feet. A few tips:

Check your feet regularly for problems. This is especially true if you have diabetes or any other medical condition that causes poor circulation or numbness in your toes. If you do, check feet daily so that problems can be caught early on.

Good circulation is essential. When you’re sitting down, put your feet up. If you’ve been sitting for a while, stretch your legs and feet. Give yourself a foot massage — or trade foot massages with someone you love. A warm foot bath is also a good idea.

Above all, wear sensible shoes. Here are some tips:

  • Most people have one foot that’s bigger than the other. Fit your shoes to the bigger foot.

  • Buy shoes at the end of the day, as feet tend to swell a bit and you will get a better sense of fit.

  • When buying shoes, wear the socks that you will be using when wearing that shoe. For example, wear an athletic sock when buying athletic shoes and a dress sock when purchasing dress shoes. If the shoe does not feel good at the time of purchase, then it will never feel good.

  • As you get older, feet get bigger. Get your feet measured every time you buy new shoes.

  • Don’t go by shoe sizes. Shoe sizes vary among manufacturers; a shoe is the right size only when it fits comfortably.

  • The ball of your foot should fit into the widest part of the shoe.

  • A shoe should be sturdy enough that it only bends in the ball of the foot — exactly where your big toes bend. Any shoe that can be bent anywhere along the sole or twisted from side to side is generally too flimsy.

  • There should be at least one-half inch between the tip of your longest toe and the front of the shoe.

  • Never buy shoes that feel tight and expect them to stretch with wearing.

  • If you have prominent areas on your feet such as hammertoes and bunions, avoid shoes with a lot of stitching or multiple pieces of fabric, as these stitched areas tend not to stretch to accommodate various toe deformities.

  • Your shoes shouldn’t ride up and down on your heel as you walk.

  • The higher the heel, the less safe the shoe.

  • Check children’s shoes often to make sure they still fit.