Hammer Toes

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What Is Hammer Toe?

Hammer toes are deformities most often occurring in the second through fourth toes.

They cause the toes to bend to the side from the middle joint. This positioning makes the affected toe look like a hammer.

Causes and risk factors of hammer toes

Two common causes of hammer toes include:

  • Ill-fitting shoes, especially those without enough room in the toe box.
  • Muscle weaknesses and imbalances, either due to trauma or a pre-existing health condition.

Risk factors that make certain people more likely to develop hammer toes include:

  • Age — risk increases with age.
  • Gender — women are more at risk than men are.
  • Toe length — those with longer second toes have a higher risk.

Hammer toe complications

If not treated, a hammer toe can progress and cause more muscle problems in the toes. They can even cause reduced or complete loss of function certain toes.

The altered positioning of the hammer toe can cause:

  • Calluses
  • Corns
  • Other problems in neighboring toes

Why choose UPMC Orthopaedic Care for hammer toes treatment?

  • UPMC has one of the highest-funded orthopaedic research programs in the nation, with access to ongoing clinical trials, particularly useful for those with hammer toes.
  • We offer expert orthopaedic surgery services and treatments to people of all ages to help them get back to enjoying their lives.

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Hammer Toes Symptoms and Diagnosis

Hammer toe symptoms

Most notably, hammer toes are characterized by the joint bend and shifted positioning of the toes.

Before and after these deformities occur, symptoms of hammer toe may include:

  • Claw-like toes
  • Inability or difficulty moving toes
  • Corns on the top of the toes
  • Calluses on the sole of the foot
  • Pain when wearing shoes

Hammer toe diagnosis

To confirm a diagnosis of hammer toes, your doctor at UPMC Orthopaedic Care will fully review your:

  • Symptoms
  • Medical history
  • Results of certain tests and exams

Common diagnostic exams and tests may include:

  • A full foot exam.
  • X-rays to study both muscular and bone positions.

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Hammer Toes Treatment

Hammer toe treatment goals

Treatments for hammer toes can vary, depending on how severe the case.

In general, treatment goals for hammer toes aim to:

  • Increase and preserve the flexibility of toes.
  • Stretch and strengthen toe muscles.
  • Release tendons triggering toe positions.

At UPMC Orthopaedic Care, our doctors use a range of treatments in cases of hammer toes such as:

  • Medications
  • Nonsurgical treatments
  • Surgical treatments

Medications for hammer toe pain

Doctors may prescribe pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications to treat hammer toes.

Hammer toe nonsurgical treatment

Common nonsurgical treatments include many different types of shoe adaptations to help with hammer toe pain relief. The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgery recommends shoes that are one half inch longer than the longest toe.

Additional shoe adaptations include:

  • Stretching current shoes or buying new shoes to allow enough room in the toe box.
  • Avoiding high heels.
  • Adding insoles or orthotics to your shoes.
  • Using hammer toe regulators and straighteners.

Hammer toe surgery

Orthopaedic experts at UPMC often suggest hammer toe correction surgery for people that haven't had success with nonsurgical treatments for their hammer toes.

Some of the more common surgical strategies for hammer toes aim to:

  • Move tendons and ligaments.
  • Relieve pain.
  • Remove parts of bones and muscles to straighten toes.

Benefits and risks of hammer toe treatments

Both surgical and nonsurgical treatments for hammer toes, when implemented quickly, can be effective in preserving and even restoring and repairing toe flexibility.

If you think you might be at risk for hammer toes, it's crucial to regularly monitor:

  • Your toes
  • Foot pain
  • Any changes in toe and foot flexibility

After any surgical treatments for hammer toes, you may experience:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Redness
  • Swelling

You will be able to walk after surgery, but should do so in moderation.

Failure to follow doctors' orders of postoperative rest may lead to further problems and related complications.

Make an appointment for hammer toe treatment

Request an appointment with a UPMC orthopaedic surgeon:

Learn more about treatments for hammer toe

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