July 07, 2021
Hammertoe Causes & Treatment

Dr. Scott Biggerstaff, MD

Hammertoes are a common problem we see in our foot patients at OrthoCarolina. Not only can hammertoes be unsightly, but the condition can also cause pain and make walking difficult.

Thankfully, hammertoes can be corrected surgically with a quick recovery time.


What is a hammertoe?

A hammertoe is a foot deformity where one of the small toes has an abnormal bend in the middle toe joint. Moving the affected toe is often difficult or painful.

Hammertoes can occur in a single toe or also can occur in multiple toes at the same time. I also see toe deformities frequently in patients who have bunions.


What causes a hammertoe?

Hammertoes are often related to a person’s shoe choices. You are more likely to develop a hammertoe if you wear high heels or narrow toed shoes.

However, patients can develop hammertoes even if they avoid these types of shoes. Most people who develop hammertoes have inherited them from a family member. We have genetics to blame for this.


How do you treat hammertoes?

The most common reason for someone to seek care for their hammertoe is that they are painful and make wearing shoes difficult.

Some people have pain with activity or even with just normal walking. Occasionally we see patients who have sores or wounds that have resulted from the toe rubbing against their shoes.


Non-operative Treatment

Conservative treatment of a hammertoe is directed at improving a patient’s symptoms.  Unfortunately, non-operative treatment does not correct the hammertoe.

The first thing a patient can do is to make sure they wear shoes that have enough room in the toe box to accommodate the deformity. We also will recommend patients wear a toe sleeve on their hammertoe to prevent the toe from rubbing on their shoes.

Also, I will give the patient a hammertoe splint that can help straighten the toe while they are wearing it. As mentioned above, these treatments help with the symptoms but do not correct the toe.


Surgical Treatment

If a patient is still experiencing significant pain and discomfort after conservative measures, we consider operative treatment.

I am able to correct most hammertoes using minimally invasive techniques similar to the way I correct most bunions. By using small incisions, patients typically have less pain and swelling. 

These surgeries are generally done in an outpatient surgery center unless the patient has a medical contra-indication.

Most patients who have a minimally invasive hammertoe correction take only one or two doses of pain medication. They also rarely need any sort of pin or screw fixations. Instead, I can maintain the correction using steri-strips and soft dressings.

If the hammertoe is the only issue being corrected, I have patients walking on their heel immediately, and my goal is to have them in a tennis shoe by about 4 weeks after surgery. Patients who opt for surgery generally do not need any physical therapy.


There's no reason to live in discomfort unable to do the things you love. If you think you have a hammertoe or are suffering from foot pain, please contact one of our foot & ankle specialists today.


Scott Biggerstaff, MD, is a fellowship-trained foot & ankle surgeon at OrthoCarolina Kernersville and Winston-Salem. He specializes in the minimally invasive treatment of bunions, hammertoes and other foot and ankle deformities.

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