Hammertoes: Signs, symptoms and treatments

Are your toes crooked? Are you noticing callous-like skin growing on top of toes where your shoes rub? You may be suffering from a very common and often painful foot deformity known as hammertoes.

Mayo foundation for medical research
photo credit: Mayo foundation for medical education and research

A hammertoe is a deformity that can affect any toe, but typically affects the second and third toes, causing them to bend downward instead of pointing forward.   Toes have joints that allow them to bend in two places.  Hammertoes are usually caused by a muscle imbalance that causes the toes to move into a bent position over the years.  This causes the middle joint of the toe to bend abnormally downward.  The ligaments and joints in the toe can become permanently contracted in this position if left untreated.

For people with poor circulation or diabetes, hammertoes can be a threat to skin integrity and overall foot health and should be evaluated by your local podiatrist.


There are two types of hammertoes;

Flexible Hammertoes: if the toe and affected joint can still flex and move, the hammertoe is considered flexible.  In this early stage of the problem there are many conservative and effective treatment options available.

Rigid Hammertoes: if the toe and affected joint are stiff and inflexible, the tendons have contracted and become rigid.  In this stage, the hammertoe can only be fixed with surgery.  At Kansas City Foot and Ankle, our surgeons utilize the latest advancements and technology to correct hammertoe deformities.

Signs and symptoms of a hammertoe can be mild or severe.  Mild symptoms include; the affected toes bending downward, and corns on the top of the toes where shoes rub or at the ends of the toes.  More severe symptoms include difficult walking due to pain and instability, and the inability to bend or flex the toes.  See your local podiatrist right away if you develop any of these symptoms.

Treatment for flexible hammertoes include, changing footwear to shoes that don’t put pressure on the toes, and custom-molded orthotics to correct the instability that is causing the hammertoe.  By addressing the flat feet or high arches with custom-molded orthotics, the muscle imbalance is eliminated, and the toes may be shifted into their proper position, potentially relieving pain and stopping, or at least slowing down, progression of the deformity.  Cushions, pads and a topical skin softener like urea can be used to treat the corns or tough callous like skin on the top of the toes.  Over-the-counter corn removers are not recommended, as they can irritate the skin, potentially leading to an open wound or burn.

Should conservative care fail to keep you comfortable, permanent treatment for rigid hammertoes is surgery to reposition the toe and realign tendons.  This is an outpatient procedure, you can walk right away, and recovery is about four to six weeks.

If you are suffering from hammertoes, our foot and ankle doctors can evaluate your condition and provide effective treatment.  Call Kansas City Foot and Ankle to schedule an appointment at 816-943-1111.