A hammertoe is a deformity of the second, third or fourth toes in which the main toe joint is bent upward like a claw. Initially, hammertoes are flexible and can be corrected with simple measures. Left untreated, they can become fixed and require surgery. Hammertoe results from shoes that don't fit properly or a muscle imbalance, usually in combination with one or more other factors. Muscles work in pairs to straighten and bend the toes. If the toe is bent and held in one position long enough, the muscles tighten and can't stretch out.
Our approach to hammertoe
If treated early, while the affected toe is still flexible, hammertoe can be corrected with simple measures, such as properly fitted shoes and special inserts or pads. If the toe is left untreated and loses flexibility, however, surgery is the only treatment option. The procedure we use depends on the type and severity of the deformity.
Our team includes highly trained orthopedic surgeons who specialize in the ankle and foot, as well as podiatrists, physical therapists and pedorthists (specialists in modified footwear and supportive devices for the lower leg). Our goals are to relieve pain and restore mobility, so patients can return to their normal lives and the activities they enjoy. We offer doctor's appointments, medical imaging and physical therapy services in one convenient location.
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Signs & symptoms
With this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, resembling a hammer. If you have hammertoe, you may have corns or calluses on the top of the middle joint or on the tip of the toe. You also may feel pain in your toes or feet and have difficulty finding comfortable shoes.
A thorough medical history and physical exam by a physician is always necessary for the proper diagnosis of hammertoe and other foot conditions. Because the condition involves bony deformity, X-rays can help to confirm the diagnosis.
Hammertoe can be corrected by surgery if conservative measures fail. Usually, surgery is done on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic. The actual procedure will depend on the type and extent of the deformity. After the surgery, there may be some stiffness, swelling and redness and the toe may be slightly longer or shorter than before. You will be able to walk, but should not plan any long hikes while the toe heals, and should keep your foot elevated as much as possible.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.