Hammertoes are a common foot condition that can cause intense pain and discomfort. Like other toe deformities, hammertoes can make choosing proper footwear that fits your feet very difficult. Many times people will just end up avoiding footwear altogether because of the pain caused by hammertoes. Hammertoes can cause intense pain even when just walking or standing for long periods.

What are Hammertoes?

Hammertoes are a condition in which the toes, usually the middle three, become bent and fixed in a claw-like position. The condition can affect one or more toes and can cause pain and discomfort when wearing shoes or walking. The toes may also become callused or irritated from rubbing against the inside of shoes to the point of developing calluses or corns.

What Causes Hammertoes?

One of the leading causes of hammertoes is genetics. If one or more of your family members have hammertoes, you may be more likely to develop the condition. Arthritis is another common cause of hammertoes. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-traumatic arthritis can all lead to hammertoes.

Certain types of foot injuries can also cause hammertoes. Trauma to the toes or foot, such as a broken or sprained toe, can cause the muscles and tendons to shorten, leading to hammertoes.

Wearing shoes that are too tight or have high heels can also cause hammertoes. Shoes that are too tight can put pressure on the toes and force them into a bent position. High heels can also cause hammertoes by putting added pressure on the toes and altering the foot’s natural position.

Severe bunions can lead to a person developing hammertoes for the same reason as wearing shoes that are too tight. The big toe that has been forced sideways into the middle toes can cause them to develop into hammertoes. 

People with certain foot conditions, such as flat feet or high arches, may also be more susceptible to developing hammertoes. Flat feet can cause the muscles and tendons in the foot to work harder, leading to hammertoes. High arches can cause the toes to bear more weight than they can handle, which can lead to hammertoes.

In some cases, the cause of hammertoes is unknown. However, understanding the underlying causes can help determine the best treatment course.

Hammertoes explained

Hammertoe Treatment Options

There are various treatment options for hammertoes, including conservative and surgical options.

Conservative Options for Hammertoes

Conservative options are the first line of treatment for hammertoes and can often be effective in managing the symptoms and preventing the condition from getting worse. Some of the most common conservative options include:

  • Hammertoe pads: These pads can be placed inside shoes to help cushion and protect the affected toes. They can also help to reduce pressure on the toes and alleviate pain. Hammertoe pads can be purchased over the counter or custom-made through our office.
  • Wearing shoes with larger toe boxes: This can help reduce pressure on the toes and prevent the condition from worsening. Shoes with larger toe boxes allow the toes to have more room to move and may prevent further bending of the toes.
  • Ice to reduce swelling: Applying ice to the affected toes can help to reduce swelling and pain. Ice can be applied for 15-20 minutes several times daily to help alleviate pain and inflammation.
  • Avoid shoes with heels larger than 2 inches: High heels can put added pressure on the toes and make hammertoes worse. Wearing shoes with lower heels or flats can help to reduce pressure on the toes and alleviate pain.
  • Custom orthotics: Custom-made orthotics can help to redistribute pressure on the feet and alleviate pain from hammertoes. These inserts can be made through our podiatrists and are tailored to the specific needs of the individual. They can help redistribute pressure on the feet, align the toes, and support the foot’s arch.

It’s important to remember that these conservative options are not a cure for hammertoes and may not correct the deformity. Still, they can help to alleviate pain and discomfort, slow the progression of the condition, and improve the quality of life. A combination of these options is sometimes needed to achieve the best results.


Surgery may be necessary in severe cases of hammertoes to correct the condition and alleviate pain and discomfort. The specific procedure will depend on the individual case and can include various options.

One option is the removal of bony growths that have formed on the toe. These growths, known as exostoses, can cause pain and discomfort and be removed through surgery.

Doctor examining foot with hammertoes

Another option is straightening the toes. The procedure, known as arthroplasty, involves the realignment of the bones in the toe to correct the hammertoe deformity. This procedure can be done on one or more toes, depending on the severity of the condition.

A third option is the release of tendons or ligaments. In some cases, the tendons or ligaments in the toes may be tightened or shortened, causing the hammertoe deformity. The release of these tendons or ligaments can allow the toes to return to a more natural position.

Recovery time and the success of the surgery will vary depending on the specific procedure and the individual case. Physical therapy may be required post-surgery to help regain strength and range of motion in the toes.

Let Us Treat Your Hammertoes!

If you are experiencing pain or discomfort from hammertoes or any other foot and ankle condition, please get in touch with us to schedule an appointment. Our team of experts will work with you to determine the best course of treatment and help you find relief.

You can call our office at 703-560-3773, or if you prefer, please fill out our online contact form on our website. We look forward to speaking with you and providing you and your loved ones with exceptional foot and ankle care!

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