what is hammer toe

What Is A Hammer Toe? What Causes It? We Know How To Get Rid Of It.

When it comes to running and everything exercise, you are probably a hard-core, dedicated athlete. In other words, you would not mind spending most of your days at the gym, working out and lifting weights to gain that extra bit of muscle, or even out on the road, doing a few laps around the track or several miles on trails and beaches to get that light, lean physique.

That said, when it comes to working out, it is assumed that most of the time (if not all of the time) you are on your feet as you do so. Especially if you participate in activities which require you to use your feet often, e.g. running, walking, hiking, then you probably know the feeling of aching, sore feet at the end of the day.

Perhaps you recently noticed one of your toes looking a bit bent. You have no idea how it had happened, but the look of it concerns you. Little do you know that you have what is called a “hammer toe,” and we are here to let you know what it is all about.

In this article, we will be answering some of your frequently-asked questions on the topic, as well as offer you tips and advice to help you treat it. While a hammer toe can be annoying, it is easily treatable; soon enough, you will be back to normal in no time.

With that said, let us get right into it!


What is a hammer toe?

Also known as a “contracted toe,” a hammer toe refers to a deformity that is commonly found on the second, third, sometimes even fourth toe. It has a slightly crooked shape to it on one of the joints, thereby giving it a permanent, bent appearance, which resembles a hammer.

What causes hammer toe? How does it happen?

While a hammer toe can be present at birth, more so than often it is induced, i.e. developed over time, which otherwise worsens the deformity. Here is a list of just a few possible reasons that a hammer toe can develop:

1. Ill-fitting or improper shoes.

You might be surprised to find out that many people, especially runners and athletes, do not wear appropriate shoes for their sport. More so than not, many choose shoes that are too tight, without enough room for the feet, let alone the toes, to breathe. Specifically speaking, the toe box (i.e. space in front of the shoe) is usually too small, thereby causing the toes to crowd and become pressured, which ultimately creates problems between the digits.

2. High foot arches.

Although the arch of the foot is more centered and away from the toes themselves, nevertheless they still can be problematic. Especially if you have an unusually high arch, it creates pressure on the toes, which is often seen when running, walking, or even hiking. Much of the pressure with every step gets heavily transferred to the toes, thereby getting bent more so than normal. As a result, it can form a permanently bent shape, hence creating hammer toe.

3. Arthritis.

Whether it is due to family genetics or just a natural process over time, having arthritis can really put a damper on activities, especially physical ones. Not only that, but it can contribute to problems with your toes being loosen and flexible: by having arthritis, it ends up stiffening the toes, which then makes it prone to developing a permanent position, whether straight or bent. It can be painful as well, along with being unaesthetically pleasing.

4. Previous toe injury.

If you have ever broken your toe before, then you will know how painful it was, both during and after the trauma. Even after the bones inside of the toe heal, they might not have healed in a straight way. In other words, the bones might have recovered, but restructured themselves so as to be a bit more crooked or bent in the process.

As a consequence, it may or may not lead to hammer toe development, which in itself can cause a whole other problem with resuming a healthy, active lifestyle.

Further Reading: Why Do My Toes Go Numb When I Run?

5. Bunions.

Besides hammer toe, other foot deformities such as bunions or mallet toe can perpetuate other deformities in a never-ending vicious cycle of foot problems. Specifically for bunions, they cause the toes to crowd as well, with the big toe pushing on the second one and subsequently creating a large, unattractive bump alongside the foot.

That said, it is a mutual, cause-and-effect situation in which the big toe applies pressure to the second toe, and that can create a chain effect for the other toes to crowd and become bent in the process. Either way, it is not an ideal circumstance.

Is it harmful for the body?

In itself, having a hammer toe is not harmful for the body, but at the same time, it can affect the quality of your life. Especially if you need to be on your feet all day, having a hammer toe can make it quite uncomfortable, whether to walk or even stand up for long periods of time.

Under severe conditions, a hammer toe can alter just how you walk or otherwise move around. It can change other characteristics of your feet, including the arch which then can lead to other problems such as plantar fasciitis, mallet toe, bunions, and calluses. In essence, it becomes a chain reaction among foot injuries.

How to get rid of hammer toe?

Even though a hammer toe looks to be quite set in its bent shape, you will be surprised (even pleased) to discover that it is easily treatable, especially if you detect the symptoms early on. Here, we have a short list of solutions to getting rid of hammer toe:

1. Wear appropriate shoes.

Again, much of the problem is contributed to the fact that you do not wear properly-fitted shoes, whether for running or for casual wear. The trick is to look for shoes that are a size bigger than your foot size, as well as those with arch support and ample space in the toe box.

If anything, consider getting insoles if your shoes do not have enough arch support in them. Also avoid wearing high heels or sandals for long periods of time, since they offer zero support for your feet.

2. Stretch your toes.

If possible, take a few minutes out of your day to sit down and massage your feet and toes. Especially if it is a mild condition, you can gently pull and wiggle the affected toes as means of loosening them up from their bent state. Often times, a hammer toe happens because of stiffness, so it helps to move them around to get some circulation into it.

Here is a video on some toe-stretching exercises: 

3. Get surgery.

For severe cases, you might want to talk to your doctor about surgery prospects. Particularly if it is affecting your daily life, i.e. walking, then getting surgery is not a bad idea to consider. Just make sure that you know the risks and costs of doing so.


Overall, a hammer toe can be the bane of one’s existence. However, by taking measures to detect, diagnose, and treat it, you will be well on your way to a recovered toe.

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