Hammertoe syndrome is a general term used to describe symptoms and joint changes involving the toes. Hammertoes most frequently involve the second toe, however, multiple toes can be involved.

Two types of hammertoe exist:

  • Flexible hammertoes are in the developmental stage and the affected toes are still moveable at the joint.
  • Rigid hammertoes are more serious. The tendons tighten and the joints become misaligned and immobile.

What causes the pain?

Hammertoes are caused by an abnormal muscle balance in the toes, which leads to increased pressures on the toe tendon and joints. Heredity, trauma, arthritis, and wearing tight shoes can all lead to hammer toe.

Symptoms of hammertoe include:

  • Pain at the top of the bent toe.
  • Corns at the top of the joint.
  • Redness and swelling at the joint contracture.
  • Restricted or painful motion of the toe joint.
  • Pain in the ball of the foot at the base of the affected toe.

How is this treated?

Treatments include the following:

  • Padding the hammertoe to minimize pressure and taping the toes to change the muscle imbalance.
  • Alleviating pain through the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections.
  • Wearing custom shoe inserts to control foot function.
  • Surgery.

Surgery is recommended when you have severe pain in the toe that hinders your daily activities and non-surgical remedies have not helped or if you have a severely deformed foot. For less severe deformities, the surgeon removes the bony prominence on the toe and aligns the toe joint. Other surgical procedures include releasing a tendon that is too short, transferring a tendon to another location, and inserting a steel pin to correct the toe’s position.

Surgery for hammertoe aims to alleviate pain and enable the patient to resume regular activity wearing normal shoes. Although surgery helps the foot look more normal, appearance is not a primary goal.

What are the risks of treatment?

Risks include nerve injury, infection, bleeding, and stiffness.

Reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional.

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