The term hammer toes sounds almost like an insult, but it’s really just a way of describing toes that don’t stay in a straight line as they should. If you have toes that sinks below the others, curl in or look like they can’t follow directions very well, you probably have hammer toes. And there may be some things you can do to reduce the problem or keep it from getting progressively worse.
Hammer toes are often the result of or a companion to a bunion and involve tightening of muscles. There are, however, some things you can do to help this problem.
Let’s take a closer look at this foot health issue and see what we can learn that might benefit you.
Understanding Hammer Toes
Hammer toes are generally the result of a muscle imbalance in the front of your foot that cause your toes to point downward or curl under. If your toes bunch together or don’t stick out straight as you think they should, you probably have this condition.
Other symptoms include hardened skin or corns on the top of toe joints, calluses on the bottom of downward-pointing toes and pain or fatigue in the front of the foot that can’t be associated with any other cause.
A condition called mallet toes is similar but technically impacts different joints. There is a related condition called claw toe that also results from muscle and joint issues with the second, third or fourth toes.
The Link To Bad Shoes
Many experts link hammer toes to wearing poorly fitted shoes over a long period of time. Shoes that forcibly bend toes under — including very high heels and shoes that are shorter or narrower than necessary — are the primary culprit. Over months or years of wearing shoes that don’t fit right, toe muscles can shorten, leading to hammer toes.
Hammer toes aren’t caused exclusively by bad shoes, however. They can result from nerve, joint or muscle issues related to arthritis, stroke, diabetes and other underlying health issues.
Since the same issues that cause hammer toes can cause bunions, this condition is often seen in conjunction with a bunion on one or both feet.
Treating Hammer Toes
There’s little you can do to treat severe hammer toes, but mild causes can be helped with spacers that hold toes apart and in natural positions. You can also use a bunion day splint to help hold the big toe in a more natural position, giving the other toes room to rest normally as well.
This kind of bunion treatment reduces pressure on the big toe joint, gently stretches muscles and tendons and can help slow the progression of the bunion deformity. As a bunion gets worse and the big toe turns more inwards, problems with the other four toes are sure to worsen. That’s why treating a bunion is an important part of total foot health — and an important part of treating hammer toes for many people.
Perhaps the best advice related to hammer toes is to prevent the problem by wearing good shoes. If you already have this condition, take action to keep it from getting worse by using a bunion treatment, toe spacers and always wearing roomy, comfortable shoes with cushiony, supportive shoe insoles.