Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Information and Resources

Understanding Hammertoes -- the Basics

What Are Hammertoes?

A hammertoe occurs from a muscle and ligament imbalance around the toe joint which causes the middle joint of the toe to bend and become stuck in this position. The most common complaint with hammertoes is rubbing and irritation on the top of the bent toe.

Toes that may curl rather than buckle (most commonly the baby toe), are also considered hammertoes.

Understanding Hammertoes

Find out more about hammertoes:

Basics

Symptoms

Diagnosis and Treatment

Prevention

 

It can happen to any toe. Women are more likely to get pain associated with hammertoes than men because of shoe gear.

Hammertoes can be a serious problem in people with diabetes or poor circulation. People with these conditions should see a doctor at the first sign of foot trouble.

There are two types of hammertoes:

  • Flexible hammertoes. If the toe still can be moved at the joint, it's a flexible hammertoe. That's good, because this is an earlier, milder form of the problem. There may be several treatment options.
  • Rigid hammertoes. If the tendons in the toe become rigid, they press the joint out of alignment. At this stage, the toe can't be moved. It usually means that surgery is needed.

 

What Causes Hammertoes?

The muscles of each toe work in pairs. When the toe muscles get out of balance, a hammertoe can form. Muscle imbalance puts a lot of pressure on the toe's tendons and joints. This pressure forces the toe into a hammerhead shape.

How do the toe muscles get out of balance? There are three main reasons:

  • Genes: You may have inherited a tendency to develop hammertoes because your feet are somewhat unstable -- they may be flat or have a high arch.
  • Arthritis
  • Injury to the toe: Ill-fitting shoes are the main culprits. If shoes are too tight, too short, or too pointy, they push the toes out of balance. Pointy, high-heeled shoes put particularly severe pressure on the toes.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on May 05, 2013

Hot Topics

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

tea
What you should eat.
Woman sitting in front of UV lights
Is yours working?
woman using breath spray
What's causing yours?
colon xray
Get the facts.
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
bowl of yogurt with heart shape
Eat for a healthy heart.
woman doing pushups
To help you get fit.
Colored x-ray of tooth decay
Know what to look for.
Woman sitting with child
Do you know the symptoms?
fruit drinks
Foods that can help you focus.
Sad dog and guacamole
Don't feed this to your dog.
Thyroid exam
See how much you know.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.