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Hammer Toe Exercises You Can Do At Anytime

by Jessica Hegg January 21, 2021 0 Comments

A hammer toe often starts as a misalignment in the foot that we don’t give much thought to or even completely ignore and most often a hammer toe will not resolve on its own. It can get worse with time until it becomes painful, swollen, or stiff; with the second, third and fourth toe most at risk. Knowing the right hammer toe exercises to perform can help promote optimal foot health. Keep scrolling for the top recommended exercises (from physical therapist) to improve your affected toe.

How Exercises Help Straighten Hammer Toes

When a hammer toe occurs, we tend to blame it on our genetics or age and blow it off. However, an exercise program that focuses on strengthening and stretching the lower leg, foot, ankle, and toes can provide relief from foot pain and prevent unnecessary progression. Regular exercise keeps the foot flexible, boosts any necessary healing, reduces inflammation, and increases your overall confidence in your feet by restoring balance in the foot that will promote a straighter toe.

Combine exercises with these other toe treatment options.

Toe Stretches

When facing a hammer toe, there are certain muscles in the foot that are causing your toe to be misaligned. One of the primary muscles that gets tight is actually located in the front of the shin and is attached to the top to the toes for extension. By reducing tightness in the entire lower leg, the toe can assume better or even normal alignment; reducing foot problems.

Daily Toe Separator Use

Using toe separators and spacers are a great way to stretch the toes regularly for an extended period of time. This device gently stretches the toes into better alignment.

  • Place the toe separators between each of your toes, ensuring they feel comfortable
  • The best time to use these is first thing in the morning, after an aggravating activity (like walking, running, or jumping), or right before bed
  • Depending on how your symptoms are, you may choose to simply rest. If possible, take time to gently walk and stand to enhance the stretch. You can even wear them while doing yoga and other gentle activities
  • Wear for 5+ minutes at a time for 1-3 bouts her day

Don’t have a toe separator? You can get creative with items in your home or even use your fingers.

Toe Extension Towel Stretch

The middle joint of your affected toe is essentially stuck in flexion (a bent position). Thus, stretching the toes into extension can give relief and help restore better alignment.

  • Sit in a chair with a hand towel laid flat
  • Place your affected foot in the middle of the towel
  • Reach with both of your hands for front ends of the towel
  • Pull the towel ends up toward the ceiling to extend the toes 
  • Continue pulling until you feel a stretch in the bottom of the toes and hold for 30+ seconds
  • Repeat for 2-3 sets as needed each day
  • For other variations, you can guide your toes into extension with your hands.
  • Additionally, you can place your foot flat on the ground and lift your heel up until you feel a stretch too

Tibialis Anterior Stretch

Once you are finished stretching the feet in extension, you should also reverse the direction by stretching into toe flexion. Simply place the tops of your toes on the floor and let them curl as far as is comfortable.

Toe Range of Motion

To prevent unnecessary stiffness and promote better balance, moving your toes through their full active range of motion will feel good. If you’re struggling with this exercise because your toes are too stiff, you may need to use your hands as a guide (and overpressure) in each direction.

  • Sit on the floor or your bed with your legs out straight
  • Flex your toes by bringing them as close to the ball of your foot as possible and hold for 2-5 seconds
  • Relax the toes and then reserve your movement to extending your toes back toward the top of the foot as far as possible, hold again for 2-5 seconds
  • Alternate between these two movements for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total

Toe Self-Mobilization

Mobilization is a technique for specifically stretching a joint. For this stretch, you will be focusing on the middle joint in toe to address the surrounding connective tissue and ligaments.

  • Simply sit in a chair with your affected foot supported by your nondominant hand
  • Use the opposite hand to move and stretch your toe 
  • Push the middle joint of your bent toe down toward the floor, getting it as straight as possible
  • Hold the position for 5-10 seconds and repeat for up to 10 repetitions

If you don’t seem to be getting any lasting results with this, you can move up the “chain” in the lower leg to address other tight areas. The muscles in the shin can be part of the perpetual problem too. You can use your hands or a foam roller to address these areas. 

Toe Exercises

These strengthening exercises are designed to strengthen the intrinsic toe muscles located in the feet and other lower leg muscles, while improving overall lower body coordination. The goal is to restore better muscular balance that puts the toes in better alignment with everyday normal function.

Toe Splaying

This exercise can be tough if you’ve never tried strengthening your toes. You should notice a gradual improvement in coordination the more often you complete this exercise. Stretching the foot first with the exercises above can help too. It is great for both hammer toe and bunions.

  • Start by sitting in a chair in a comfortable position with both feet flat on the floor and the toes in the best possible alignment
  • Keep the heels and mid-foot touching the ground as you lift the toes up toward the ceiling
  • Next, attempt to separate all the toes (from the big toe to the little toe) away from each other as far as possible and hold for 1-2 seconds
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets

Towel Scrunches

Being able to properly flex your toes is important for restoring foot balance too. Toe strengthening exercises like this one will get easier with practice. It is also great for plantar fasciitis.

  • Find a chair and sit in a normal position, place a hand towel on the floor and place both of your feet in the center of it
  • Lift your toes up toward the ceiling before reaching them forward
  • Scrunch (bend) the toes as you attempt to bring the front of the towel closer to you
  • Repeat until the towel ends are as close as possible, then straighten out the towel and continue
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total
  • Other variations for this exercise include picking up marbles and “drawing” the alphabet with your toes

Single Leg Stance

When putting weight through your toes and foot, you are most likely reinforcing less than ideal movement patterns that have resulted from your hammer toe. Taking a step back and being able to learn to control your toes and forefoot with weight bearing activity, such as a single leg stance, while keeping them in good alignment will help restore and prevent toe alignment issues with daily activities.

  • Stand on the floor near a chair or wall for balance, this is best done barefoot so that you can monitor your feet better
  • Shift your weight into the foot you will be balancing on
  • Lift the opposite leg
  • Monitor your toe alignment throughout, ensuring that your toes are as straight as possible and your ankle and arch are in a neutral position
  • Hold for 30+ seconds or until you can no longer hold good form
  • Repeat for 2-3 sets on each leg
  • Progress to standing on a foam pad when you’re ready

Tips to Effective Hammer Toe Exercises

An exercise program for your toe will be pretty straightforward (no pun intended). The hardest part will be learning to coordinate your toes in ways that you probably haven’t done regularly, unless you like to walk barefoot in the sand. To get the most out of your program, keep these tips in mind:

  • Exercise your feet daily to restore balance to your toes initially
  • You can reduce your exercise frequency to 3-4 times per week for maintenance once you have achieved the results you want
  • Always focus on the best possible alignment in your foot and ankle with each exercise
  • Use other modalities to promote better tissue extensibility, such as massage and heat
  • Avoid ill-fitting footwear. Choose proper fitting shoes that allow enough space in the toe box and support your entire foot (you may need an orthotic for this too), this is especially important if the second toe is longer than your big toe
  • Protect any irritated skin on your feet with callus sleeves, you can also address calluses with a foot file or pumice stone to minimize irritation

Start Improving Your Hammer Toes

A hammer toe should be taken seriously to prevent unnecessary complications. With the right understanding of your condition, you can optimally manage your toe symptoms. It doesn’t have to be complicated, you just need to get started. If your symptoms aren’t getting better or are getting progressively worse, make sure to get in touch with your doctor, podiatrist, or physical therapist for further medical advice.




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Jessica Hegg
Jessica Hegg

Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at ViveHealth.com. With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.

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