Dear Dr. Burk:

The big toes on both of my feet point inward, and the second toe is being pushed up on top of the third toe. I also have corns on the top of my toes. The tops of my toes rub against my shoes when I walk, causing me pain. This situation seems to be getting worse over time and I really want to fix it. What can I do?

Laura S, Meridian, ID

Dear Laura,

What you are describing sounds like a condition known as hammer toe. This is a deformity that causes your toes to bend inward or curl upward instead of pointing forward. It most often affects the second and third toes. Corns on the toes and excess bony tissue on the joints are a result of this condition. Knowing how to treat and prevent hammer toe is especially important if you are experiencing pain when walking. Fortunately, this problem is reversible. Here are the common causes, treatment and prevention tips for hammer toe.

  • Causes of Hammer Toe. Genetics can play a big part in developing hammer toe in the feet. If you have particularly flat feet, or high arches in the feet, over time you will be more prone to developing joint deformities. If your second toe is longer than your big toe, it can more easily get pushed upwards. Another cause of hammer toe is related to your footwear. Women tend to push their feet into narrow, tight-fitting shoes, and shoes with heels over 2 inches high. These types of footwear typically have little arch support and put pressure on the toes and their joints. The final cause for hammer toe is ailments like neuromuscular disease or diabetes.
  • Prevention and Treatment of Hammer Toe. It is important to begin treating your hammer toe while the joints in your toes are still flexible. You can start by making some immediate adjustments with your footwear. Wear comfortable shoes with enough toe space to accommodate your foot’s shape. If you have high arches in your feet, wearing insoles in your shoes will help give you some better arch support. There are over the counter hammer toe pads available that will gently separate the toes. For the corns on the toes, try using a pumice stone after bathing. Gently remove dead skin from the tops of the toes, and then apply some lotion. I also suggest that you do some toe exercises that can start to reverse the toe deformity. Do these exercises consistently once per day for best results.

For more severe cases of hammer toe, where you are unable to flex and curl your toes, and your foot joints have become immobile, surgery may be the only solution. Surgery will reposition the crooked toes, realign the affected joints and tendons, and remove excess bony tissue. Fortunately, hammer toe surgery is a common procedure that can eliminate pain and yield excellent results. Recovery time after surgery is about 6 weeks, but you should be able to walk right away by using special surgical shoes.

In the case of more severe hammer toe, you need to see a podiatrist who is experienced in treating this condition. Please feel free to make an appointment with the Rocky Mountain Foot and Ankle experts here or call us at (208) 855-5955 today.