The Most Common Symptoms of Hammertoe

Hammertoes are a type of foot deformity that can occur for a variety of reasons. Often uncomfortable, hammertoes can be corrected under the care of a doctor. Some require surgery, while others can be relieved with nonsurgical intervention.

David Biss, DPM, board-certified podiatrist at Concord Podiatry in Concord and Plymouth, New Hampshire, offers treatment options for hammertoes. In this post, we discuss this condition and common symptoms so you know when you need to seek proper diagnosis and get effective care.

The development of hammertoe and its symptoms

There are three types of hammertoes — flexible, semi-rigid, and rigid. They describe hammertoe symptoms at specific stages in development. 

A flexible hammertoe is the beginning stage. You can move the surrounding toes, and it doesn’t cause high levels of pain. In this early stage, many people can relieve their pain with over-the-counter medications.

A semi-rigid hammertoe is characterized by the toe taking shape in a more severe position — it bends or curls downward instead of pointing forward. During this stage, your toe stiffens.

A rigid hammertoe can’t move on its own. It resembles a severe downward toe bend. The surrounding tissues are tight and may cause discomfort and pain.

A hammertoe gets its name because it looks like a hammer with the tip of the toe pointing down. Hammertoes generally occur in the second, third, and fourth toe. Most people with hammertoes have other conditions such as corns or calluses. 

Factors that can lead to hammertoe 

There are several reasons why someone may get a hammertoe. While there’s no one known cause, a number of factors may lead to the development of hammertoe.

Shoe fit

High heels or shoes that are too tight can force toes into a flexed position. Shoes with a higher heel force your foot down and push your toes against the front of the shoe, eventually increasing pressure and bending the toe.

Over time, the toe muscles become weak and can no longer straighten. If you begin to notice a downward curvature in your toe when you take off your shoes, that’s a common symptom of hammertoe.


Women are more likely than men to develop a hammertoe. 


If you’ve had a prior toe injury, you may develop a hammertoe. This is especially true if you’ve broken your toe or have an unusually high foot arch.

Underlying disease

People suffering from arthritis or diabetes are more likely to develop hammertoes. Small muscles and tendons that don’t function properly can cause hammertoe deformities.

Hammertoe treatment options

For most patients, changing shoes or wearing orthotics can help straighten the toe and relieve hammertoe pain. Toe pads are another option that shields the affected shoe from the shoe. 

Custom orthotics can provide both support and pain relief. Over-the-counter or prescription orthotic devices with metatarsal pads and cushioning may help alleviate the pain.

If you have a more severe case of hammertoe, surgery may be your best option. Surgery can address issues with the tendon or joint to correct the deformity.

Untreated hammertoes can mean prolonged joint pain, but if you know what to look for, you can prevent your hammertoes from worsening. For all of your foot and toe concerns, seek treatment at Concord Podiatry. Book an appointment by calling or texting today.

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