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What is a Hammertoe?

Hammertoe is a contracture, or bending, of one or both joints of the second, third, fourth, or fifth (small) toes. This abnormality can put pressure on the toe when wearing shoes that can cause problems to develop.

Hammertoes are usually mild deformities to start out with and get progressively worse over time. In early stages hammertoes are flexible and the symptoms can be managed usually with noninvasive measures. If left untreated though they can become more rigid and non-responsive to surgical treatments.

The progressive nature of hammertoes means that they should get seen very early on as they do not get better without some kind of intervention.


Hammertoe is most commonly caused by an imbalance in a muscle or tendon. This imbalance can lead to a bending of the toe which results from structural changes in the foot that occurs over different periods of time depending on the person.

Hammertoes can be aggravated by shoes that don’t fit properly; a hammertoe may result from a toe being cramped into a tight shoe.

Occasionally hammertoes are the result of an earlier trauma to the toe, but sometimes are inherited.


Common symptoms of hammertoes include:

  • Pain or irritation of the affected toe when wearing shoes.
  • Corns and calluses (a buildup of skin) on the toe, between two toes, or on the ball of the foot. Corns are caused by constant friction against the shoe. They may be soft or hard, depending upon their location.
  • Inflammation, redness, or a burning sensation
  • Contracture of the toe
  • In more severe cases of hammertoe, open sores may form.


Even though hammertoes are easy to spot yourself, to really know whether you have one or not the foot and ankle surgeon will need to obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot in detail. During this physical examination the doctor might attempt to mimic your symptoms by manipulating your foot so they can study the contracture of the toes. In addition to this they may also take x-rays to figure out just how bad the deformities are and just what changes have actually occurred.

Hammertoes are a progressive disorder that will not go away by themselves and will only get worse over time if they are not seen to. Although not all cases are similar, some hammertoes progress much more rapidly than other cases do. Once your foot and ankle surgeon has evaluated your hammertoes they can form a treatment plan to suit your particular needs to combat it.

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