Treatment Options for Hammertoes – What to do when you have hammertoes

Dr. Courtney Conley (DC, BS’s in Kinesiology & Human Biology)

Introduction

Treatment Options for Hammertoes, picture of someone struggling with hammertoes Treatment Options for Hammertoes

Hammertoes are a common foot problem that can affect people of all ages and genders. This condition occurs when the toes become bent at the middle joint, causing them to resemble a hammer. Hammertoes can be painful and can make it difficult to wear certain types of shoes. They can also make it difficult to walk comfortably, and perform everyday activities. In this article, we will discuss the causes and symptoms of hammertoes. We will also discuss non-surgical and surgical treatment options for hammertoes that can help alleviate pain and correct the deformity. Whether you're dealing with mild or severe hammertoes, this guide will provide valuable information to help you find relief and improve your foot health.

Causes of Hammertoes

Example of shoes that can cause hammertoes. Causes of Hammertoes

Hammertoes can be caused by a variety of factors, including footwear choices, and underlying medical conditions. If your parents or other family members have hammertoes, you may be more likely to develop them yourself. Certain foot shapes, such as having a high arch or a second toe that is longer than the big toe, can also increase your risk of hammertoes.

Wearing shoes that are too tight or too narrow can also contribute to the development of hammertoes. Shoes with a narrow toe box can squeeze the toes together and put pressure on the middle joint, causing it to bend abnormally. High heels can also be a culprit, as they force the toes forward and increase the pressure on the ball of the foot.

Underlying medical conditions, such as arthritis, nerve damage, and diabetes, can also lead to hammertoes. These conditions can affect the muscles, tendons, and nerves in the feet, causing them to weaken or become imbalanced. Over time, this can cause the toes to deform and become permanently bent.

By understanding the causes of hammertoes, you can take steps to prevent them from developing or worsening. Wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes (you can see our recommendations for those here) and maintaining good foot health are important for reducing your risk of hammertoes.

Symptoms of Hammertoes

Diagram of the area affected by the hammertoes. Symptoms of Hammertoes

The most common symptoms of hammertoes include pain, discomfort, and the appearance of the affected toes. When the middle joint of the toe becomes bent, it can rub against the inside of shoes, causing irritation and pain. Over time, the skin over the joint may become thickened and callused, adding to the discomfort.

The appearance of the toes is also affected by hammertoes. The affected toes may be bent upward in a claw-like position, with the middle joint sticking up and the end of the toe pointing downward. In some cases, the toes may cross over each other or rub against adjacent toes, leading to further irritation and discomfort.

These symptoms can impact daily life and make it difficult to perform certain activities. For example, walking or standing for long periods of time can be painful and uncomfortable, as can wearing shoes that don't fit properly. People with hammertoes may also have difficulty finding shoes that fit comfortably and accommodate the deformity.

In addition to physical discomfort, hammertoes can also impact a person's self-esteem and body image. The visible deformity of the toes may make some people feel self-conscious or embarrassed about their feet.

If you're experiencing symptoms of hammertoes, it's important to seek medical attention. You can do that in-person or online through a Virtual Consultation with a Gait Happens clinician. With proper treatment, you can reduce pain and discomfort, prevent the condition from worsening, and improve your quality of life.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Hammertoes: Wearing Proper Footwear

Wearing proper footwear is one of the most important non-surgical treatment options for hammertoes. Proper footwear can alleviate symptoms and prevent the progression of the deformity. Shoes with a wide toe box can help reduce pressure on the affected joint, providing more space for the toes to move freely. We also recommend a zero drop shoe (where the heel and toe are on the same plane) is to avoid excessive load into the forefoot. 

By wearing shoes with these specific features, people with hammertoes can help alleviate symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening. We have specific footwear recommendations on this page, and you can use one of our discount codes to save on shoes that will be kinder to your feet.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Hammertoes: Toe Exercises

Example of stretches for hammertoes. Non-Surgical Treatments for Hammertoes: Toe Exercises

Toe exercises can be an effective non-surgical treatment option for hammertoes. These exercises help stretch and strengthen the muscles in the feet, improving foot alignment and reducing pain. Toe spreads involve spreading the toes apart and holding them in place for a few seconds before releasing. 

This exercise helps strengthen the muscles that control the movement of the toes and improve overall foot stability. Other exercises like resistance bands to improve strength, tenting the foot and finding the tripod can be very helpful. By incorporating toe exercises into a daily routine, people with hammertoes can improve foot health and reduce pain and discomfort. You can find some free toe exercises on our Instagram page, or do our 12-week online program for reduced pain and improved performance where you’ll get targeted weekly exercises to complete. 

Non-Surgical Treatments for Hammertoes:  Orthotic Devices, Padding, and Taping

Non-Surgical Treatments for Hammertoes: Orthotic Devices, Padding, and Taping. Non-Surgical Treatments for Hammertoes:  Orthotic Devices, Padding, and Taping

Orthotic devices, padding, and taping can be effective non-surgical treatment options for hammertoes. These options provide support and cushioning to the affected toes, reducing pain and preventing further deformity. 

Toe spacers, for example, are small devices that fit between the toes and help keep them in a more natural position. They can help reduce pressure on the affected joint and improve alignment of the toes. You can find our favorite ones in our store here

Metatarsal pads are another option that can be placed in the shoe to provide cushioning and support to the ball of the foot. This can help reduce pressure on the toes and improve overall foot comfort. Taping can also be used to hold the affected toes in a more natural position and prevent further bending of the joint. By providing support and cushioning, orthotic devices, padding, and taping can help reduce pain and discomfort associated with hammertoes and prevent further deformity.

Surgical Treatments for Hammertoes

Surgical Treatments for Hammertoes. Surgical Treatments for Hammertoes

For people with severe or advanced hammertoes, surgical treatment may be recommended. There are several surgical options available, including arthroplasty, arthrodesis, and tendon transfer. But these should only be considered in the most extreme cases. There is so much you can do before considering surgery. 

Arthroplasty involves removing a small piece of bone from the affected joint to help straighten the toe. The joint is then held in place with a pin or wire while it heals. Arthrodesis, on the other hand, involves fusing the affected joint to prevent it from bending. Tendon transfer may also be used to correct muscle imbalances and realign the toes.

These surgical procedures are typically done on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia. Recovery time varies depending on the procedure and extent of the deformity, but may range from a few weeks to several months. While surgery can be effective in correcting hammertoes, it is generally considered a last resort option after non-surgical treatments have been exhausted.

If you're experiencing severe or advanced hammertoes, talk to your healthcare provider about whether surgical treatment may be appropriate for you. They can provide information on the risks and benefits of each procedure and help you make an informed decision about your treatment options.

Conclusion

Hammertoes can be a painful and frustrating condition, but there are many treatment options available to help alleviate symptoms and prevent the deformity from worsening. If you intervene early enough you have an excellent chance of better outcomes by keeping your hammertoes flexible. 

Non-surgical treatments, such as wearing proper footwear, doing toe exercises, and using orthotic devices or padding, can be effective in managing hammertoes. Surgical options are also available for people with severe or advanced cases.

If you're experiencing symptoms of hammertoes, it's important to seek professional medical advice in-person or online through a Virtual Consultation with a Gait Happens clinician. A healthcare provider can help determine the underlying cause of the deformity and recommend appropriate treatment options based on your individual needs. Early intervention and proper care are important for managing hammertoes and improving overall foot health.

In summary, this article has discussed causes, symptoms, non-surgical and surgical treatment options for hammertoes. By taking steps to manage hammertoes, you can reduce pain and discomfort, improve your foot health, and prevent further deformity. If you're struggling with hammertoes, seek the advice of a healthcare provider and explore your treatment options to find the best solution for your individual needs.

FAQs

What are hammertoes?

Hammertoes are a foot deformity where the toes become bent at the middle joint, resembling a hammer. This can cause pain, discomfort, and difficulty wearing certain types of shoes.

What causes hammertoes?

Hammertoes can be caused by a variety of factors, including wearing tight or narrow shoes, foot shape, and underlying medical conditions such as arthritis or diabetes.

How are hammertoes treated?

Non-surgical treatment options for hammertoes include wearing proper footwear, doing toe exercises, and using orthotic devices or padding. In more severe cases, surgery may be recommended to correct the deformity.

Can hammertoes be prevented?

While hammertoes may not always be preventable, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. Examples of these are wearing proper footwear, maintaining good foot health, and treating underlying medical conditions.

When should I see a healthcare provider for my hammertoes?

If you’re experiencing pain, discomfort, or difficulty wearing shoes due to hammertoes, it’s important to seek professional medical advice. A healthcare provider can help determine the underlying cause of the deformity. They can recommend appropriate treatment options based on your individual needs.

Is surgery the only treatment option for hammertoes?

No, surgery is not always necessary for hammertoes. Non-surgical treatments such as wearing proper footwear and doing toe exercises can be effective in managing symptoms and preventing further deformity. Using orthotic devices or padding can also be effective. Surgery is generally considered a last resort option after non-surgical treatments have been exhausted.

*Please note that the answers provided here are for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan based on your specific condition.

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