What is a Hammer Toe?

What is a Hammer Toe?

Hammer toe is a condition that affects the foot, where a toe is abnormally bent in the middle joints. It may strike or “hammer” the ground with the tip of the toe when walking. Hammer toe is a deformity that commonly occurs in the second, third, or fourth toe. The condition is sometimes painful at the tip of the toe or at the top of the knuckle. Roomy, softer shoes can help. If pain persists, surgery can be considered.

Signs & Symptoms of a Hammer Toe


The tell-tale hammer toe symptom is an abnormal, upward bend in the middle toe joint. Initially, you may still be able to bend and straighten your toe. Still, the joint can become more inflexible and more painful over time, especially when stretching or moving the affected or surrounding toes.

Hammer toe symptoms can be mild to severe, including:

  • Pain, typically at the top section of the affected toe
  • Rigidity of the toe joint
  • Inflammation or redness
  • Calluses and corns, as a result of the misshapen toe rubbing against your shoes
  • Pain in the ball of the foot
  • Difficulty walking
  • Open sores (Rare and in extreme cases)

What Causes a Hammer Toe?


A hammer toe is defined by a deformity of the middle toe joint, flexing downward at an irregular angle. Causes of the deformity have been linked to an abnormal muscle balance in the foot, resulting in added pressure on the toe joints and tendons. The abnormal balance can be caused by:

  • Flat feet or high arches - Adjustment in weight distribution to support a flat or high arch may place continued stress on toe joints and tendons
  • Ill-fitting shoes - High heels or footwear with no arch support can put severe pressure on toe joints. Shoes that are too tight can squeeze toes into unnatural positions.
  • Trauma - In rare instances, a severe toe stub, jam, or break could increase the likelihood of developing a hammer toe in the affected digit

Risk Factors

Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase your likelihood of developing hammer toe, including:

  • Longer toes - Particularly if the second toe is longer than your big toe
  • Age - The risk of developing hammer toe increases as you get older
  • Sex - Females are more likely to develop a hammer toe, especially if they often wear high heels
  • Arthritis and diabetes - These underlying conditions can make toe joints more susceptible to hammer toe

Wearing too-small shoes can increase your risk of a hammer toe, along with other conditions such as bunions, corns, blisters, and ulcerations.



Basic foot care goes a long way in preventing hammer toe. Here are some actions you can take to avoid the condition or lessen the severity of the symptoms:

  • Proper footwear - Make sure your shoes aren’t too tight and have adequate room around the toes. Choose a low heel, or less-constricting footwear with adjustable straps or laces.
  • Pumice stone - File down calluses or corns that appear on the affected toe
  • Use padding - Such as moleskin when wearing shoes to prevent calluses
  • Foot exercises - Keep your toe muscles supple and strengthened. Regularly curling and splaying the toes and wiggling them individually could prevent stiffening of the muscles that lead to joint rigidity and deformity.
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Hammer Toe Care

If you are experiencing pain and other symptoms associated with a hammer toe, it’s crucial that you seek help sooner rather than later. The expert orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists at NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia Orthopedics can deliver a diagnosis and treatment options, including preventive measures and exercises for mild hammer toe cases and top-notch surgical solutions for severe conditions.

Contact us for an appointment today.