Hammertoes are flexible at first, but if left untreated, they can become fixed and require surgery.
Hammertoe is a contracture - or bending - of one or both joints of the second, third, fourth, or fifth (little) toes. It begins as a mild deformity, but it gets progressively worse over time.
Often, the abnormal bending of hammertoes puts pressure on the toe when you wear shoes. This can lead to a number of problems, including:
- Pain or irritation of the affected toe when wearing shoes.
- Corns (a buildup of skin) on the top, side, or end of the toe, or between two toes.
- Calluses (another type of skin buildup) on the bottom of the toe or on the ball of the foot.
Corns and calluses can be painful and make it difficult to find a comfortable shoe. Even without corns and calluses, hammertoes can cause pain because the joint itself may become dislocated.
Before hammertoes become serious, there are a variety of effective non-surgical treatment methods, including:
- Trimming and padding corns and calluses. This should be done by a healthcare professional. Over-the-counter pads are helpful, but avoid the medicated types because they may contain a small amount of acid that can be harmful.
- Changes in footwear. Avoid shoes with pointed toes, shoes that are too short, or shoes with high heels- conditions that can force your toe against the front of the shoe. Instead, choose comfortable shoes with plenty of room for your toes and heels no higher than two inches.
- Orthotic devices. A custom orthotic device placed in your shoe may help control the muscle/tendon imbalance.
- Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help reduce pain and inflammation.
- Splinting/strapping. Splints or small straps may be applied to realign the bent toe.
In extreme cases, surgery may be recommended to straighten your toes and correct the condition. The easiest way to avoid surgery is to catch hammertoe early and take the necessary treatment options. Refer to our hammertoe FAQ if you have more questions about the condition.
It's important to talk with your physician before beginning any treatment on your own. They will provide an accurate diagnosis of your unique situation and recommend the most effective treatment schedule.