Hammer toes are toes that rest in a bent position at the middle joint and are hyperextended (curling upwards) at the end. Tight ligaments and tendons cause the joints of the toes to curl downwards. Hammer toe may result from shoes that don’t fit properly or from a muscle imbalance. Muscles work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes and when there is an imbalance of the forces on the toes, the muscles tighten and cannot stretch out.
Shoes with narrow toes push the smaller toes into a flexed (bent) position. The toes rub against the shoe, leading to the formation of corns and calluses, which further aggravate the condition. High heeled shoes force the toes against the shoe, increasing the pressure and the bend in the toe. Eventually, the toe muscles are unable to straighten the toe, even when there is no confining shoe.
A hammer toe is a toe that is bent downwards at the middle joint of the toe. The end joint of the toe will curls up, making the toe look like a “hammer”. Initially hammer toes are flexible and can be stretched out straight. Over time, without proper treatment, hammer toes can become fixed and can only be corrected by surgery.
There is often discomfort on the top of the toe due to rubbing against the shoe. People with hammer toe may have corns or calluses on the top of the middle joint of the toe or on the tip of the toe. They may also feel pain in their toes or feet and have difficulty finding comfortable shoes.
Conservative treatment starts with new shoes that have soft and roomy toe boxes (the front of the shoe). Shoes should be one-half inch longer than your longest toe and should have a deep toe box that makes room for the hammer toe. Sandals may help, as long as they do not pinch or rub other areas of the foot. Exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles are often helpful.
To help keep flexible hammer toes on a stretch during the day, use 3pp Toe Loops. These soft, cushioned straps allow you to hold the toe(s) on a slight stretch and they cushion the top of the toes to lessen the formation of calluses. 3pp Toe Loops can be worn with any toe.