Foot Ailments

Hammer Toe Causes & Treatment Options – without Getting Surgery

Hammer toe is a condition that affects the feet. Anyone can develop hammer toe – some people even inherit it and have it from birth. If left untreated, it can be incredibly painful for the sufferer. It can lead to corns, calluses, difficulty walking and permanent damage to the feet.

Hammer toe (sometimes called mallet toe) is a deformity which occurs as a result of an imbalance in the muscles. It can cause the middle joint of the toes to bend downwards instead of pointing forward. It’s most common in the second, third and fourth toes.

A small number of people have hammer toe at birth. For most people, it starts as a mild deformity and becomes progressively worse. The good news is that it is eminently treatable if you catch it early enough. Avoiding treatment can cause the hammer toe to grow more rigid, and make it less likely that it will respond to non-surgical treatment. The YogaToes Gel Toe Stretcher and Separator can help, so it’s worth reading our in-depth review.

In this article, you’ll learn all about the different causes of hammer toe. We’ll also be looking at the various non-surgical treatment options, such as Dr. Frederick’s Original 2 Piece Hammer Toe Treatment Set, for those who want to cure the condition before it gets worse.

What Causes Hammer Toe?

There’s no single cause – there are a variety of factors that come into place. One of the most common reasons why people develop hammer toe is because they wear ill-fitting shoes regularly. If you need space, you can create extra room with quality shoe stretchers.

If your feet are forced into a cramped position for many hours, it can cause an imbalance in the muscles and tendons in the feet and toes. This then leads to the painful condition, where the toes begin to curl downwards.

Women are more likely to develop hammer toe because of the pointed or high-heeled shoes many of them often wear. However, that doesn’t mean men can’t experience the condition, especially if they wear tight or ill-fitting shoes often.

There are also some other things that can cause or increase your risk. If you have an unusually high foot arch, you may be more likely to develop it than others. Arthritis in the toes can also cause this condition to develop, causing pain to the sufferer – though often the pain is caused by arthritis, rather than the hammer toe itself.

If you have a bunion (a painful deformity of the big toe), this can also lead to a problem further down the line. Naturally, the combination of a bunion and hammer toe can be very painful and could lead to trouble walking unaided. If you think you might have either of these two conditions, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Genetic conditions that affect bone structure can cause hammer toe, as well as muscle-related illnesses like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, or Friedrich’s ataxia.

Lastly, if you suffer a traumatic toe injury, it can cause it to develop. If you’ve severely stubbed your toe, or if you’ve suffered a break, it’s more likely that you will develop the condition in this particular digit. Make sure you follow your doctor’s advice post-injury to ensure the toe sets in a normal, healthy position and doesn’t start to curl downwards.

What Are the Symptoms of Hammer Toe?

Look out for any of the following symptoms:

  • Irritation or pain from the affected toe – especially when wearing tighter footwear.
  • The appearance of corns and calluses on the ball of the foot or between two toes.
  • Redness around the affected area
  • Inflammation and a burning sensation.
  • The toe visibly curling downwards.
  • Open sores are a possible symptom in severe cases.
  • Inability to flex your foot.
  • Inability to wiggle your toes.
  • Difficulty walking or even standing.

If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, there’s a chance you may be affected. Consider looking into treatment options, or go and see a medical professional for their verdict.

What Are the Long-Term Effects?

The longer you leave hammer toe untreated, the harder it will be to treat when it starts to cause problems. The condition will always worsen without treatment – it cannot be cured without intervention once the toes have started to curl.

The long-term effects can be devastating. You may find it impossible to stand or walk anywhere because of the pain, and you may even experience loss of feeling in your toes.

If you suffer from diabetes or poor circulation in your toes, the effects can be even more dangerous. People with these conditions are at higher risk of infections in the foot area, and hammer toe can cause foot ulcers and blisters. Should these become infected, the prognosis can be very bleak, depending on how quickly the infection is caught and treated.

 What’s The Difference Between Hammer Toe & Claw Toe?

Hammer toe is often confused with another condition – claw toe. The two have many similarities, but they are different conditions entirely. Confusing the two could mean you seek the wrong treatment, so it’s important to understand the different conditions.

Claw toe affects both the middle and end joints in the toes, and usually, all four toes are affected. By contrast, hammer toe only affects the middle digit. Any of the toes can be afflicted, but it’s most likely the second toe along.

If you think you have either hammer toe or claw toe, visit a podiatrist to get their opinion and confirm which of the conditions that you have. Then you can treat the condition accordingly.

How To Fix Hammer Toe without Surgery

The good news is that if you start treatment for hammer toe quickly enough, you’ll be able to avoid any surgery at all. There are a variety of different treatments you can try, from over-the-counter solutions to gentle stretches and exercises.

Using Splints & Wraps

One of the best treatments for the early stages of hammer toe is a splint. You can buy a splint online. They help to keep the toes in place, as well as preventing rubbing, pressure, and overlap. The support they provide can reduce pain and discomfort in the toes.

  • Dr. Frederick’s Original 2 Piece Hammer Toe Treatment Set is a very popular option. It comes with gel cushions and is made from a soft, flexible material that still provides full support. You should wear the splints every day for maximum effect, and should continue to wear them for a few weeks even after your hammer toe appears to have subsided.

Hammertoe wraps can also work well in the very early stages. Much like a splint, a wrap helps to correct hammer toes that still have a little flexibility, and haven’t gone totally rigid. They also relieve the rubbing and irritation that can occur as a result of the toes being deformed.

  • Wraps like the Profoot Toe Straight Hammertoe Wrap are often thin enough to wear underneath socks and in any shoes without causing them to become too tight. They often come with cotton linings, some infused with healing balms like aloe to soothe the skin they are wrapped around.

Changing Footwear

It’s also absolutely vital that you change your footwear if you believe that’s what has caused your hammer toe. If you regularly wear shoes that are too small, or that make your feet feel cramped and uncomfortable, consider swapping them for more suitable options.

Shoes with pointed toes or particularly high heels can force the toes against the front of the shoe. This is one of the main causes of hammer toe, and it can exacerbate the condition further if you develop it. Try to avoid these types of shoes while you’re recovering.

Instead, opt for shoes that don’t confine your toes. Many brands offer ‘wide fit’ ranges suitable for those with slightly broader feet – this can help reduce the risk of hammer toe developing. You should also avoid wearing heels that are any higher than two inches, to prevent your toes from being crushed against the front and starting to curl downwards.


Unfortunately, there are no particular oral or topical medications that can help treat hammer toe. However, you can use medication to alleviate some of the symptoms.

If you’re experiencing pain and inflammation as a result of your hammer toe, anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can help to provide some relief. You can also buy topical pain-relief gels at many pharmacies. Some are designed specifically for use on the feet, alleviating the pain from bunions, corns, and other ailments.

Hammer Toe Treatment Exercises

Another great way to treat hammer toe without surgery is to carry out some simple exercises regularly. These will help to stretch out the muscles in the feet and prevent the toes from becoming rigid. If you allow it to become rigid, you’ll likely need surgery to correct the problem, so it’s certainly worth carrying out the exercises as often as you can.

Toe-Spreading Exercise

The toe-spread exercise is a simple movement that you can do while you’re sitting at home. Cross the affected foot over the other leg. If you’re experiencing hammer toe on both feet, you’ll need to do this both ways. Simply push one finger into the gap between the hammer toe and the toe next to it. Then, if you can, squeeze your finger with the toes.

You may be flexible enough to interlock all of your fingers and toes and still squeeze. Switch between spreading the toes and squeezing them for between five and ten minutes. Repeat once or twice a day for the best results.

You can also enjoy benefits from using toe separators.

Toe Crunch

This move is a little like the crunches you do at the gym for your abs – except for your feet! Sit in a chair and put a towel or some other material (an old t-shirt will work) under the affected foot.

Keeping your foot on the ground at all times, use only your toes to scrunch up the towel, then release. Repeat for a few minutes – then carry out the exercise on the other foot, if you need to. You can add extra resistance and make this move a little harder by adding items to the end of the towel. A magazine or a book would work well to add resistance.

As you progress, you can even move onto picking up harder objects. A small marble is a great item with which to practice. Sprinkle a couple of them onto the ground and pick them up one by one, using only the muscles in your toes.

Manual Stretches

You can also use your hands to help stretch out the toes. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. You can either wrap a towel around your toes or use your hands for this move.

If you’re using a towel, pull the ends of it towards you, stretching the toes out effectively. If you’re flexible enough to use your hands, repeat the same action, except using your own hands behind the toes. As with the other exercises, repeat on both feet if necessary, and repeat every day for the best results.

Toe Taps

You can do this exercise standing up or sitting down. Raise the affected foot off the ground (if you’re standing, feel free to hold onto something for balance). Try to point your big toe towards the floor, while pointing your other four toes up to the ceiling. Hold the position for a couple of seconds, then relax.

Repeat this exercise 10-12 times. You can also reverse it for maximum effect. Point your big toe to the heavens and your other four toes down to the floor to retain flexibility in all five digits.

What are the reasons for hammer toes?

Latest Treatments for Hammer Toe

Medical progress is being made all the time in terms of hammer toe treatments. Many of the latest treatments for this condition involve some implant in the toe. This is a halfway option between nonsurgical treatment and surgery.

The implants are usually made from stainless steel or plastic and are a permanent fixture. They help to correct the deformities and keep the bones aligned. Keeping the implants in permanently means there’s a significantly reduced chance of it reoccurring.

Other Tips To Help Treat Hammer Toe

As well as regular stretching and wearing splints, there is a multitude of ways you can fight hammer toe. These tips will also help you to prevent hammer toe from occurring in the first place. If you believe you might be at risk, take heed of these hints.

  • If you spend most of your day on your feet because of your occupation, invest in some comfortable shoes that don’t restrict your feet. Orthopedic shoes are a good choice. These are made specifically to support and accommodate all the different areas of the feet and ankles, so you should feel comfortable all day.
  • Understand how to trim corns properly, or see a podiatrist who can do it for you. Keep corns and calluses free of the hardened skin by rubbing them with a pumice stone after you’ve showered or bathed.
  • Consider an orthotic device. These are custom-made devices which are placed inside the shoe. This can help to address the muscle and tendon imbalance that is causing the condition.
  • If the pain of your hammer toe is very serious, consider injection therapy. You can get corticosteroid injections from your doctor to ease the inflammation and reduce the pain in your toe. However, it’s important to remember that this won’t address the issue itself – it will only alleviate the pain.

Why You Should Try to Avoid Hammer Toe Surgery

Hammer toe surgery is performed on those unaffected by other treatments. It’s often seen as a ‘last resort’ by doctors. The toes in these patients will have become rigid and won’t respond to splints, stretches or other treatment methods.

Surgery for hammer toe can be stressful and even painful. It can involve removing small pieces of bone from affected toes, as well as using pins to keep the digits in the right position while they heal. Tendons often need to be lengthened, rebalanced or transferred entirely, and surrounding joints may need to be relocated to compensate for the change.

Surgery can result in long recovery times. For those who need to work or remain active and mobile, this is not ideal. That’s why it’s so important to seek treatment for hammer toe as soon as you see the early signs and symptoms. We’ve found that the YogaToes Gel Toe Stretcher and Separator is an easy-to-use preventative method if you’re concerned about the condition of your feet.