January 9, 2019

What causes claw toes and hammertoes?

Foot and Ankle


Hammertoes are a progressive deformity of the toes that occurs due to an imbalance of the muscles in the foot. When the deformity becomes more severe and especially if it involves all the toes, then it may be called claw toe.

With both deformities, the toes of the feet stick up at the joint between the toes and the metatarsal, which is the bone behind the toes. The middle joint of the toe then bends down. This can cause pain due to the top of the toes hitting the shoes or the tip of the toe digging into the ground.


The feet contain nearly one-fourth of all the bones in your body, which provide you with support and movement. There are 26 bones in one foot: 14 toe bones, five long toe (metatarsal) bones and seven tarsal bones.

Symptoms of claw or hammertoe

  • Toes bend upward from the joints at the ball of the foot
  • Toes are bent downward at the middle joints toward the sole of your shoe
  • Toes bent downward at the top joints, curling under the foot
  • Corns develop over the top of the toe or under the ball of the foot

Physician examination

To determine whether you have claw toe or hammertoe, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe your symptoms and how the injury occurred and conduct a physical examination.


Treatment for hammer or claw toe

Treatment usually begins with conservative treatment and depends on the severity of the injury.

  • Splint or tape to hold toes in correct position
  • Change in shoe wear with soft, roomy toe boxes
  • Toe exercises such as crumpling a towel on the floor with your toes and then releasing it
  • Using hands to stretch toes and joint toward the normal position
  • Orthotics or special foot inserts to redistribute weight and relieve pressure
  • Understanding your feet and what shoes to wear

Hammer toe and claw toe surgery

Surgery for hammer toes and claw toes may be required depending on the symptoms and severity of the deformity of the toes. Surgical treatment is aimed at strengthening the toes and may require the placement of screws or pins temporarily. The goal of surgery is to relieve symptoms and repair deformity.

Learn more about foot and ankle treatment at OrthoIndy.

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000
Megan Golden

By Megan Golden

Megan Golden worked at OrthoIndy from 2012 to 2019, where she wrote a variety of content for our blog, magazines and inbound campaigns. Megan graduated from Ball State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising and communications studies minor.

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