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Surgical vs. Non-Surgical Hammer Toe Treatments

by Patty Weasler, RN January 21, 2021 0 Comments

If your second, third or fourth toe points up in the middle joint then you probably have a condition called a hammer toe. Early hammer toe treatment can help curb this toe deformity and can even be managed at home with simple implementations. However, if the affected toe has been misshapen for a long period of time then you may need medical or surgical intervention. Here are the best treatment options to help correct your hammer toe and the medical options for more severe cases.

Treating a Hammer Toe Without Surgery

Hammer toe begins from a muscle imbalance that puts too much pressure on the toe joints and tendons. When the bent toe remains in the position for too long the joint and muscles become so tight that they cannot straighten out. The result is toe and foot pain. If the toe still has some flexibility you can treat it at home. Below are your treatment options.

Learn More About Hammer Toes

Toe Splints

A toe splint uses a semi-flexible elastic that wraps around your affected toe. It is attached to a pad that goes under your foot. Splinting your hammer toe can gently straighten out the abnormal bend or prevent it from even happening. You’ll want to make sure you have enough room in the toe box of your shoe to accommodate the toe splint.

Toe Spacers

Hammer toe leads to a common foot problem of overlapping toes. Toe spacers can help correct the toe overlap by spacing out the toes from each other. You won’t be able to comfortably wear these in your shoes. But try them out when you are relaxing at home or while in bed.

Metatarsal Pads

A metatarsal pad is a cushion that sits under the ball of your foot. It helps to offload pressure and relieve foot pain. Metatarsal pads are especially helpful if you must wear high heels or other shoes that put extra stress on the metatarsal area of the foot. 


Moleskin is a heavy bandage that sticks to your foot. It will stop the rubbing between your foot and shoe which will ultimately help prevent irritations like calluses, corns, and blisters. You can use them on the top of your bent toe to prevent irritation from your shoe rubbing on it. Moleskin is also great for people with bunions and other foot conditions that cause a protrusion. Some brands of moleskin are pre-cut, whereas others allow you to cut the bandage to your size. 

Shoe Inserts

A shoe insert, also known as an orthotic, can support your foot to help in the treatment of hammer toes. The orthotic will help support your foot in the correct position preventing the need for you to try and grip with your toes, further aggravating a hammer toe. There are several shoe inserts and insoles on the market, try out a few to see which ones give you the best support. If you are unsure, reach out to your local podiatrist for guidance.

How to Choose the Best Insoles

Proper Footwear

One of the easiest and best ways to treat and prevent hammer toe is to wear proper fitting shoes. Look for supportive, cushioned shoes that have a wide toe box and low heel. Ill-fitting shoes that pinch or have high heels create stress and strain on your toes and feet. Look for shoes that are a half inch longer than your longest toe, which is typically your second toe. For some people, sandals may be the most comfortable option.


Hammer toe exercises focus on strengthening and stretching the muscles in your foot, leg, and toes. It will help you stop the progression of the hammer toe and relieve your pain and stiffness associated with the condition. These exercises can be done in the comfort of your own home with minimal equipment.

Effective hammer toe exercises

Proper Foot Care & Manage Calluses

When you have a hammer toe the bend in the toe joint can rub against your shoe creating a callus. Over time the callus can get bigger causing discomfort or pain. To treat calluses put your foot in a warm bath to soften it. Once it is softened use a pumice stone or emery board to file it down. It can take several sessions to totally eliminate your callus. Once you are done with each session put lotion over it to keep the area soft. 

Cortisone Injections

Cortisone injections use powerful steroid medication injected into your joint to reduce swelling and pain. They are not a cure for hammer toes but can help with the inflammation caused by the bent toe. Cortisone injections are done in your doctor’s office. Unlike over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, a steroid injection will be focused on a single area whereas oral medication will relieve inflammation throughout the body.

Surgery for Hammer Toes

If home treatment hasn’t relieved the symptoms of hammer toe or if the toe is immobile then your doctor may suggest surgery. You will likely need diagnostic imaging like an x-ray to evaluate your bones. Then your surgeon will give you their medical advice on how they would like to proceed with the surgery. 

Types of Surgery

There are three main types of surgery for hammer toes. Here is a little bit about each one:

  • Tendon Transfer

    During a tendon transfer, your surgeon will move tendons from the bottom of the toe to the top of the toe to pull the joint straight.

  • Tendon Lengthening

    Tendon lengthening works just as it sounds. The surgeon will lengthen the tendon within the toe to straighten out the joint.

  • Fusion

    Your surgeon may choose to do a toe joint fusion and tendon lengthening procedure. This involves removing a part of the toe joint bone so that the toe can fully extend. Then the surgeon adds a pin or plate to fuse the bones together.

Expected Recovery

Your recovery will be dependent upon the type of surgery you had. For most people, they can expect a four to six week recovery that involves swelling and stiffness. Your surgeon will give you guidelines on when you can walk and put weight on your foot. For many people, they can put pressure on their feet right away but need to limit their activities.

Straightening a Hammer Toe

A hammer toe is a foot deformity that happens over time. It can be caused by genetics, poor shoe support, and several other factors. The key takeaway is that early treatment can be effective and may help you prevent the need for surgery. Always talk to your doctor if you suspect any changes in your feet. They can guide you through a specific treatment plan catered to your needs.


Hammer Toe Products


Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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