Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Hammer Toe


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
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What is hammer toe?

A hammer toe is a toe stuck in an abnormal bent position. Instead of lying flat, the middle of your toe sticks up.

  • It happens most often in the second, third, or fourth toe

  • Women and older people get hammer toe more often

  • You may feel pain when wearing certain shoes or have pain in the ball of your foot

  • Wide shoes and toe pads can help lessen pain

Hammer Toe

Hammer Toe

What causes hammer toe?

Causes include:

  • Unusually long toe bones

  • Weakness in certain muscles in the foot

  • Injury

  • Pressure on the toe from a bunion

  • Years of wearing shoes that don't fit right

  • Genetic causes

What are the symptoms of hammer toe?

The toe is bent so the middle part of it is higher than normal. The higher part can rub on your shoe, causing:

  • Corns (hard cone-shaped bumps of skin on the top of the smaller toes, particularly over a joint)

  • Open sores

Shoes with low and narrow toes may be painful to wear. You may also get pain in the ball of your foot.

How can doctors tell if I have hammer toe?

Doctors tell you have a hammer toe by looking at your feet.

How do doctors treat hammer toe?

To treat hammer toe, doctors will:

  • Have you wear comfortable, wide shoes

  • Have you use toe pads (shields sold in pharmacies to protect the toe from rubbing against the shoe)

  • Treat any skin irritation or open sores

  • Have you wear special devices that fit in your shoe

  • Do foot exercises

  • Do surgery if your hammer toe can’t be treated in other ways

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