Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options for Hammer Toe

Hammer toe is a foot deformity that causes the middle joint of a toe to bend upwards. It usually affects one of the middle toes and leaves the affected toe joint susceptible to irritation from rubbing against your shoes when you walk. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms and treatment options for hammer toe:


Causes of hammer toe include the following:

  • Injury—Any trauma to your toe such as jamming it in a door or stubbing it against furniture can cause inflammation and move the joints out of place.
  • Nerve disorders—People with health conditions that can cause nerve damage such as diabetic neuropathy are more susceptible to developing hammer toe.
  • Footwear—Wearing high-heeled shoes, footwear that's too tight around the toes or shoes that don't fit well can put too much pressure on your toes and force them into a bent position, which causes inflammation around the joint over time.


Aside from the joint in the middle of your toe bending upwards, symptoms of hammer toe include:

  • Pain at the top of the affected toe when wearing shoes
  • Pain in the ball of the foot when walking
  • Swelling around the toe joint
  • Corns may form on top of the affected toe joint as a result of rubbing and pressure when wearing shoes


Your podiatrist will diagnose hammer toe by examining your feet and may take X-rays of the affected toe to assess the extent of the problem. The aim of treatment is to straighten the toe over time. Treatment can include:

  • Changing footwear—You'll be given advice on choosing supportive footwear with cushioning and a wide toe area. Before buying new shoes, have your feet measured to ensure you're buying the correct size.
  • Shoe inserts—Your podiatrist will provide you with one or more types of shoe insert to encourage your toe to straighten. Toe regulators consist of small loops of soft material attached to a thin sole. You place your toe inside the loops and tighten the loops so your toe is held in a straight position. Toe cushions are made of soft silicone gel and sit under your toes. They relieve pressure and push up on the tips of your toes to straighten out the middle toe joint. Orthotic insoles redistribute the weight across your feet and can be custom-made to relieve pressure on the front of your feet.
  • Exercises—Your podiatrist will show you how to do strengthening and stretching exercises such as picking up a small cloth with your toes. Strengthening the muscles in your toe can stretch out your toe joints over time.
  • Surgery—In severe cases of hammer toe, which are normally characterised by toe joints that are rigid and out of alignment, surgery will be necessary to restore movement. The procedure is usually performed as a day case and involves severing tendons and realigning the affected toe joint.

Hammer toe tends to worsen if left untreated, so if you have any of the above symptoms schedule an appointment with a clinic like Morrison Podiatry Centre as soon as possible.