Hammertoe is a deformity of one or both joints of the second, third, fourth, or fifth (little) toes. Hammertoe usually develops as a mild contracture (bending) deformity that progressively worsens. Initially, hammertoes are flexible and symptoms are manageable. Left untreated, hammertoes can become rigid and may not respond to nonsurgical treatment. Often, patients with hammertoe have bunions or other foot deformities corrected at the same time. Muscle and/or tendon imbalance is the most common cause of hammertoe, leading to a bending of the toe that results from structural or neurological changes in the foot. Hammertoe can also be aggravated by improperly fitting shoes. Other causes include a toe being too long and thus being cramped in tight shoes, or as a result of an earlier trauma to the toe. Hammertoe can also be hereditary. Common symptoms include pain or irritation of the toe when wearing shoes, corns or calluses, inflammation, contracture of the toe, or in severe cases, open sores. Nonsurgical treatment options include padding corns and calluses, change of footwear, orthotic devices, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and splinting or strapping. In some cases, surgery is the recommended treatment.

“For people with diabetes or poor circulation, hammertoe can be a serious problem because they have a higher risk for infections and foot ulcers. Custom orthopedic shoes may prevent these complications. People with these conditions should see a doctor at the first sign of symptoms.”