The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Got Claw Toe, Mallet Toe, or Hammer Toe Pain? We Talk About Options for Treatment

Posted by on Friday, January 29th, 2016

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More than 200,000 people are professionally treated for hammer toe pain each year. Like bunions, hammer toes are a progressive foot problem that worsens over time without treatment. Usually the deformity is obvious because the toes appear visibly bent, but other symptoms include pain at the top of the toes, corns forming on the middle toe joints, redness, swelling, and pain on top and in the ball of the foot at the base of the toe. Some hammer toes are flexible and others are semi-rigid or rigid. Patients may experience no pain unless they are walking.

Here are some of the best ways to treat hammer toe pain at home, in addition to having your condition professionally addressed by our NYC podiatrists.

hammer toe pain
There are a number of non-invasive therapies that can help hammer toe before surgery is considered. Image source: Wikimedia CC user Hellerhoff

Understand the Root Cause

Seeing a specialist (rather than a primary care practitioner) will help you determine the root cause of your hammer toe pain. We find that most cases boil down to one or more of the following issues:

  • Genetics – People with flat, flexible feet often suffer from hammertoes as the foot overcompensates for a lack of proper arch stability. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also treat many patients who have extremely high arches where the extensor tendons overpower the toe flexors.
  • Footwear – Shoes don’t necessarily cause hammer toes, but they do contribute to a worsening of the condition. Improper fit, narrow shoes, pointy toe boxes, and high heels are associated with aggressive hammer toe development.
  • Disease – Neuromuscular diseases like diabetes, Charcot-Marie Tooth, and arthritis increase the risk of hammer toe. People who have suffered strokes also suffer from foot problems like bent toes and pain.
  • Trauma – Occasionally, stubbing, jamming, or breaking a toe can result in improper healing and hammer toe development, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Successful treatment requires addressing the various root causes. For instance, we may prescribe custom orthotics to give you more arch stability. We can counsel you on footwear choices and help you find the best shoes for your particular feet. Management of blood sugar and physical therapy to improve range-of-motion in arthritic patients are also helpful complementary therapies in the treatment of your hammer toes.

Change Your Shoes

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that shoes have:

  • Half an inch of space past your longest toe
  • A square or wide toe box
  • A heel that is two inches or less
  • A secure heel
  • Elastic or ties that grip onto the foot

Keep in mind that feet change in size over time. In fact, Consumer Reports found that 12% of Americans were wearing shoe sizes that were off by 1.5 sizes or more. Other studies by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society found that eight in 10 people were wearing shoes that were too narrow. This means it’s important for the health of your feet to determine what shoe size you are.

Try Over-the-Counter Relief

To relieve hammer toe pain, you can try:

  • Cushioned stick-on pads for the tops of the hammer toes to prevent corn and callus formation.
  • Ball of foot gel pads for pain on the underside of the foot.
  • Buddy tape or orthotic straps and splints to keep the toe in place and reduce strain.
  • A hammer toe kit with all the types of corrective pads mentioned.

Ice and anti-inflammatory NSAID medication can also provide relief for acute pain.

See a NYC Podiatrist

In addition to diagnosing your hammer toe appropriately and ensuring the skin is not infected, NYC podiatrists at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine can start you off with physical therapy exercises you can do each day to preserve flexibility. Cortisone injections can relieve pain associated with joint inflammation. Surgical intervention may be required to correct moderate to severe toe deformities. You can expect a recovery time of about six weeks following hammer toe correction. The doctors at the CPCSM have had exceptional results (97% success) with surgical correction of hammertoe deformities.

Contact our experienced, board-certified podiatrists and podiatric surgeons to learn more about our podiatry offices in Manhattan and Westchester.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.