If you have hammertoes—or know someone who does—you know how these curled toe deformities can get someone bent out of shape. A hammertoe usually affects one of the second, third, or fourth toes and can, if left untreated, cause significant pain or contribute to the development of other issues.

Why Toes Bend

Fundamentally, the problem is a muscle imbalance. Skeletal muscles work in pairs to contract or extend a body part such as a toe; when one muscle becomes significantly weaker than its partner, you may lose the ability re-straighten a curled digit.

Hammertoes tend to run in families—some people, it seems, are genetically predisposed to developing this muscle imbalance based on the way their feet are structured. Other possible catalyzing factors include arthritis, traumatic injuries, and wearing tight shoes that keep toes in cramped, curled positions all day.

The Life Cycle of a Hammertoe

In the early stages, the joint is still flexible—you may not be able to uncurl a toe just by thinking about it, but you can still push or pull it back into place temporarily using your fingers, a splint, or tape.

If untreated, flexible hammertoes usually progress into rigid hammertoes, with joints that are locked firmly into place. This condition is much more serious and is more likely to require surgical correction.

Symptoms and Complications

Hammertoes, especially rigid, can cause pain in multiple areas. You may feel pain in the ball of your foot at the base of your toe, as well as at the flexed joint. You may experience redness, swelling, and even the formation of blisters, corns, or calluses at pressure points on the tops, tips, or even between toes  or the ball of your foot from constant friction and pressure from the inside of your shoe. In severe cases open sores may even form at these points, doubly problematic for those with circulatory or immunodeficiency problems such as diabetes.

Conservative Treatment

Non-surgical approaches are most likely to be successful when undertaken early, before the condition progresses to the rigid stage. Doing so may entirely prevent a rigid hammertoe from forming.

Make sure your shoes fit properly and provide plenty of width and height for toes to wiggle unrestricted. Keep the heels under 2 inches, as well.

A bent toe can be realigned using splints, straps, or “buddy taping.” This may allow toes to more easily fit into shoes and avoid some of the painful problems with pressure and friction. Other tools that may help include metatarsal pads or corn pads—make sure you get the non-medicated variety.

Although hammertoes usually do not “go away” without surgery, certain exercises can help you stretch and strengthen the affected muscles and resist further progression of the deformity. These may include using your toes to crumple a towel or pick up marbles or other small items from the floor.

OTC painkillers can be helpful during episodes of pain. Our office also provides cortisone injections and laser therapy to help your body manage pain better.


Surgery is usually only considered when the hammertoe is rigid and conservative treatment methods have been thoroughly employed without success. A procedure will be selected based on the severity of the deformity and your personal and lifestyle needs as a patient. Hammertoe surgery is performed outpatient at our office and will typically require several weeks to months of limited weight bearing while the toe heals. We will draw up a detailed recovery plan to help you get back to full speed as quickly as possible.

Providing Hammertoe Relief in the Coachella Valley

Dr. Harvey Danciger has decades of experience diagnosing and treating hammertoes. Whether your case is best served through laser therapy, metatarsal pads, surgery, or just a new pair of comfortable shoes, we’ll help you find the right treatment plan to get you back on your feet and enjoying day to day activities again. Request an appointment today online, or give us a call at 760-568-0108.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle