Top 12 questions and answers by Dr.Keyes on self treatment at home for people with hammertoes.



hammertoe bent picture from mayoclinic

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If my toe will not straighten out (it's permanently bent) will one of those hammertoe correcting devices on TV or over the counter help correct it?


Theoretically speaking maybe, since the toe was straight to begin with and something (probably shoes) caused the gradual bending over years. Practically speaking it will not work for reasons such as the toe corrector treatment does not address the true causes, and how much deforming force was the toe exposed to over what period of time to make that toe bend. To bend the toe back to its original position the toe corrector would have to apply a similar but opposite force for a similar duration— a highly impractical affair.


over the counter foot supports

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Would over the counter orthotics (foot supports) help correct my hammertoes?


They may help with the support in your arch which could have a somewhat relieving effect on the involuntary “scrunching” of you toes in your shoes. Overall in my experience they have very little usefulness and can make the problem worse by taking up room in the toe box thus making the hammertoe joints impact the top of the shoe more than before.


yoga for fixing hammertoes

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Would Yoga or other “core” building exercises help correct my hammertoes?


Yes and no. On one hand, the feet have to ground all the movements of the body to maintain upright balance and the toes are a major player in applying the counter forces necessary for this—so in theory any exercise system that can shape up your body in a way that would effectively relieve the repetitive counter forces by the toes (which can cause hammertoes over time) would at least serve to slow down the process of hammertoe formation. Generally speaking it will not straighten toes that are cannot be straightened manually, but it could help flexible hammertoes from becoming more rigid. On the other hand are you really going to commit the time and energy in doing it long and often enough to make difference and if you do commit does the exercise system truly pinpoint and positively affect the bodies musculoskeletal imbalances?


taping a bent hammertoe to a straight toe

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Would it help my crooked toe if I taped it to a good straight toe next to it?


In my experience taping toes together has caused more problems than it has helped. You can cause under and overlapping toes with this treatment.


hammertoe gel pad

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What about using those over the counter toe protecting pads for my hammertoe?


They can be of temporary relief of pain especially where the high point of the toe bend hits the toe box. Long term it has very little usefulness. Do you really want to buy and apply pads to your toes the rest of your life? Also pads take up valuable space in the toe box which can lead to even more damaging pressures on the toes. Of course other factors such as your age, fashion requirements, activity levels, and personality can come into play here.


best shoes for hammertoes


What kind of shoes should I wear to help me to be more comfortable with my hammertoes?


The shoe should fit properly length wise, width wise, and toe box depth wise. Too long a shoe and create conditions of the foot sliding forward, or scrunching the toes to keep the foot from moving sideways inside a too large shoe. Too short a shoe and the toes will be forced into an inadequate amount of space. A spacious (especially in depth) toe box made of soft flexible material can really add comfort for severely bent up toes. Lower heels can throw more weight back on the heels thus relaxing the toes, but sometimes especially with a very tight calf muscle, low heels can have the opposite affect. On the other hand the opposite can be said for higher heels which can throw more body weight onto the toes but can relieve the workload on the toes if one has a tight calf. An overall supportive shoe (strong sole/shank) seems to work better with very flexible feet as they can adapt to the rigid shape of the shoe— whereas a less supportive flexible shoe tends to adapt to the more rigid foot and thus feel more comfortable.


What can I do to prevent getting hammertoes?


If your toes look and feel fine and you have no problem with the toes fitting in all the shoes you like then my advice is don’t worry about it. If you are starting to get some symptoms try and track down any events in the past which may have triggered it —eg- a new shoes, pregnancy, weight gain, new job, etc.—once the main cause is tracked down then an effective remedy usually becomes apparent.


My mother has always suffered with her hammertoes, does that mean I will get them too?


Generally speaking there is not a hammertoe gene coded in your DNA like eye or hair color could be. Hammertoes are more of an acquired deformity of the shape of the toes over a fairly long period of time. You certainly can inherit certain underlying conditions from your genetic line such as longer than average toes, high arched feet, one foot longer than the other, all of which can make it difficult for you to find a proper shoe, which results in wearing ill fitting shoes—a major cause of hammertoes. Compare the appearance of your feet with your mothers and look of any clues of similarities or differences, and then ask her when she was your age did her toes/feet look like yours?


I think I am starting to get a hammertoe on one foot but not the other, why is that?


In the absence of an underlying disease (see above) or direct trauma, 95% of the time it is a combination of genetics and shoes. The first thing to do it measure both feet in length and width to see if there are any major differences in shoe sizing. Usually the longer foot gets the hammertoe forming first. Next look at the toes and compare the toe pattern of each toe length with the big toe on each foot. Is the toe in question relatively longer on that foot compared to the same toe on the other foot? Is the toe next to that toe too long or toe short or underlapping that toe? Next check the toes while standing with shoes on—bend over and try to feel how each toe is fitting in the toe box and compare your findings to the toes in the other shoe. Lastly, check your walk, do you have a limp, have low back pain, lean to one side, do you most things with your right hand— all these things can cause the toes to work much harder on one side than the other.


When should I seek professional help if I have some symptoms of hammertoes?


I would certainly recommend to get professional care ASAP if the symptoms are pretty severe -eg really painful, or “looks infected”. Also seek help if you have an underlying condition known to affect the toes such as—diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, poor eyesight, stroke, circulatory or neurological disease is best to seek professional care soon—the problems that those diseases can cause can be complicated, insidious, and dangerous. If you have early or mild symptoms and your home remedies have not helped much, then professional advice, especially one who specializes in toe problems, can be invaluable.


I would like to get rid of the corn on top of my hammertoe, does that Dr. Scholl’s corn remover work?


The active ingredient in the Dr. Scholl’s corn remover is Salicylic acid which is common “aspirin”. When compounded into a topical, the acid has the effect of causing a separation of the hard dead top skin layer of the corn which can then fall off. The outer dead skin layers are only the top part of the corn covering the living damaged dermis and other tissue below it. If the corn is painful and has a very thick hard outer layer then the acid can make that layer thinner and thus give some pain relief. However if your corn has a relatively thin outer layer then the acid can then burn into the living skin areas and cause pain and/or inflammation or infection. Since the corn is a symptom and not a cause of the problem, the corn remover generally will not get rid of the corn permanently. If you want to get rid of the corn not because of pain but because you do not like the appearance of it then corn removers can make the corn look worse afterwards—especially in people with darker skin.


My hammertoe does not hurt but I do not like the looks of it and I really do not like to show my toe in public either—what can I do to make it look better?


In my opinion if the hammertoe is still flexible (will straighten out with little force manually) and if you can isolate out the shoe(s) that are pushing it up then you have a pretty good chance of reversing the process. If the toe is bent and you cannot straighten it out manually then there really is nothing you can do to correct it directly but I will tell you about some indirect creative strategies that some of my patient have used. All the strategies have a common core theme—hide that toe from view. They wear sandals with a decorative accessory on the strap right over that toe. Another common strategy is to wear open toed shoes that only shoe some of the toes (the good ones) and hide the bent ones. A more extreme but very creative idea is the “tattooing” the toe to usually incorporate the “corn” area into a design effectively hiding it in plain sight. The toes that I have seen this on however does not really work at all—in fact it then tends to direct more attention to that area than it would have before. The tattoo ink does not seem to take hold very well (probably due to the skin being too thick) so that part of the design fades more leaving the surrounding ink in good skin more or less emphasizing the corn by creating a bold border around it.


Larry A Keyes DPMDr. Larry Keyes is a podiatrist in Oak Park, IL. Since 1998, he's been changing his patients' lives after perfecting a safe, simple and zero-downtime solution to correcting hammertoes, the removal of corns and prevention of keloids.

1023 Madison Street, Oak Park, IL 60302

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