A hammertoe is an abnormal bend in the middle joint of a toe. It typically happens in the second, third or fourth toes. Hammertoes are caused by a muscle imbalance in the tendons on the top and bottom of the toe.
A hammertoe can be flexible or so rigid that it’s not possible to straighten out the toe. Hammertoes tend to get worse over time and often cause corns and callouses to develop on the feet. This is because the bent toe puts extra pressure on the feet.
Doctors usually diagnose a hammertoe by examining the foot. X-rays might also be done to determine if there are problems with any of the bones in the feet.
The type of treatment you need depends on the condition. Treatments may include:
- Using prescription shoe inserts (orthotics) to reposition your toe and help slow down structural changes in the foot
- Stretching the calf muscles
- Wearing roomier shoes
- Trying over-the-counter corn removers (be careful if you use these because they can burn the skin)
If conservative treatments don’t help, surgery may be needed:
- If the toe is flexible, a simple procedure called a tendon release might help.
- If the toe is rigid, a piece of bone might be removed to straighten the toe.
- If there’s a corn, damaged skin will be removed.
Surgeries are done at the doctor’s office or an outpatient surgery center. After surgery, it’s important to stay off of the foot as much as possible. Some swelling in the toe is normal. Your doctor will give you guidelines for caring for yourself.