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How to avoid hammer toes

Last Modified: October 23, 2018

Family Medicine

A change in the shape and mobility of a toe, could be characterized as hammer toe. We asked Ashley Bojrab, DPM, PPG – Podiatry, to explain this common condition, and how proper footwear can help prevent it.

What is a hammer toe?

When a toe is contracted at a joint and bending downward, it creates the deformity called hammer toe. When the joint nearest to the nail is bent down, that resembles a mallet toe. And when both joints of the toe are contracted, the result is a claw toe. Both of these deformities are consider a hammer toe.

What causes hammer toe?

Hammer toes develop over time, typically, due to an imbalance of the muscles and tendons in the foot. Also, arthritis, injury, ill-fitted shoes, and foot type can contribute to the progression of hammer toes.

What is happening in the toe?

When the hammer toe first develops, it’s typically flexible. As it the deformity continues, it can become rigid and lose the ability to move. This stiffness can create difficulty when wearing shoe gear.

Are they harmful?

As hammer toes progress, it can result in issues when wearing shoes, such as blisters and calluses. In severe cases, the blisters or calluses can break down and turn into wounds.

When should you seek medical treatment?

When hammer toes become painful and affect the quality of life or activity, patients should seek professional help from their local podiatrist. More urgently, patients should be seen if the toe becomes red, hot or swollen.

How are they treated?

Conservative care is always the best way to start with managing hammer toe pain. This would involve changing of shoe gear, possible padding or orthotics. If conservative treatment fails or the patient is unable to move the toe, then the next option would be surgical correction. 

Can they be prevented?

To prevent hammer toes from forming, it is important to always wear shoes that fit correctly and are supportive. Wearing shoes with lower heels will help as well. When shopping for shoes, it’s important not only to measure the length but the width of the foot as well. The best time of day to go shoe shopping is toward the end of the day, because your feet swell throughout the day. 


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