Health A-Z


Clinical Definition

Hammertoe or hammertoe syndrome describes a sometimes-painful condition in which a toe bends, curling up and under, resembling a hammer. The toe is initially still flexible, but as the condition progresses, it may become rigid and require surgical intervention.

In Our Own Words

Hammertoe, also called hammertoe syndrome, can be caused by a number of things, including toe muscle imbalance and ill-fitting shoes. The result is one or more toes that become bent down, like a hammer. Most often, the condition affects the second toe, though it can affect other toes as well. Tight shoes, heredity, trauma and arthritis can all lead to the condition.

At the root of the problem is an abnormal muscle balance in the toes, leading to increased pressure on the toe tendons and joints. This can cause corns and calluses and eventually makes it difficult for the muscles to straighten the toe. Initially, the toes are still flexible, but if untreated, they may become rigid with tight tendons and immobile joints. Treatment options include toe exercises, shoes with roomy toe boxes, corn and callus pads and surgery.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Pain at the top of the toe that bends
  • Corns at the top of the toe joint
  • Painful motion of the toe joint
  • Swelling, redness at the joint
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