While it may sound like a new dance move, hammertoe is no joke. Hammertoe is a foot deformity that occurs due to an imbalance in the tendons, ligaments, and muscles that hold the toe straight. A hammertoe causes an abnormal bend in the middle joint of a toe (usually in the second, third, or fourth toes), so that the toe resembles a hammer. Read on for tips on how to stop hammer time.


Hammertoes form when the muscles in the toes and ball of the foot aren't working together correctly. The imbalance can push toes out of proper alignment in a few ways. Your toe may:

  • Pull back, forcing the knuckle up.
  • Pinch or mash up against other toes.

The discomfort may only be mild at first, but walking can become difficult and painful if it progresses. If the toe fully retracts, it can be difficult to straighten out and may require surgery.

Genetics can play a role in hammertoes—the structure of the bones, muscles, and ligaments in some feet, unfortunately, make them more prone to the condition.

What else causes hammertoes?

  • Shoes that are too tight, too short, too pointy, or otherwise put pressure on the toes. Pointy high heels are common culprits. Time to get rid of uncomfortable shoes!
  • Flat feet or high arches—both make feet less stable.
  • Arthritis or injury to the foot, especially if it causes an unnatural walk.
  • Bunions that push the second toe out of place.

Could I Have Hammertoes?

Take a close look at where you feel pain in your foot.
Hammertoes affect (1) the toes; and (2) bottom & ball of foot at base of toes. 

Self- Assessment Quiz

Do I have?

  • Toes that appear crooked or misshapen?
  • Protruding knuckles that form corns or rub in shoes?
  • A long second toe that is often crowded or bent?
  • Toes that don't rest flat on the ground?
  • A bunion that's cramping the second toe?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you most likely have hammertoes. Keep reading for recommendations on treatment and relief from the experts at Walking Co.

Are There Any Serious Concerns with Hammertoes?

As hammertoe progresses, walking can become difficult and painful. If your toes become severely bent or out of alignment and cannot be straightened with other treatment, you may require surgery.

Treatment and Prevention

Wearing shoes with a wide toe box is the easiest way to avoid developing hammertoes. Shoes with extra depth and room help relieve the pressure of standing and walking on your toes.

If hammertoes are already causing you discomfort:

  • Use corn pads or cushions to reduce rubbing and irritation on the top of the bent toe or toes.
  • Use shoe inserts or orthotics to provide support and encourage the foot muscles to work together properly.

Also, try the following to keep toes separated:

  • Toe straighteners
  • Toe caps
  • Toe loops
  • Spacer cushions

If non-surgical treatments do not work and your hammertoe continues to be painful or cause irritation, then you may consider surgery. Talk to your podiatrist and receive a complete foot examination before considering surgery.

 Related Conditions

Related Activities

  • Working in occupations that involve standing for long periods of time
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your health care provider on all matters relating to this or any other condition that may affect your health.