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Best Exercises to Improve and Treat Your Hammer Toe

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By Upstep Staff
Joel Taylor
Edited by Joel Taylor

Updated February 26, 2024.

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A hammertoe is a condition of the foot characterized by a deformation of the middle joint of the toe. The middle joint bends abnormally, flexing or bending downwards so that the toe now looks like a hammer. While hammertoe is most common in the second, third, and fourth toes; it can also occur in the pinky toes.

Hammertoe results from an imbalance of muscles, ligaments, and tendons acting around the middle joint of the toe.

The common causes include wearing tight and ill-fitting shoes with poor arch support and limited toe room; foot type and structure like with flat feet and abnormally high arches; long toes, genetics, trauma or injury to the foot or toe; a weak calf muscle; a strain caused by a bunion; certain diseases that affect the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments e.g. arthritis, diabetes, neuromuscular disorders, and strokes.

» Take a look at the best insoles for flat feet to help improve your hammertoe

How You Can Straighten Your Hammer Toes at Home

Hammertoes when they occur can affect your walking. However, they can be straightened. Often, a combination of conservative treatments is enough to correct the deformity and prevent it from progressing. It is possible to straighten hammertoes at home and relieve symptoms of pain, impaired joint mobility, and discomfort by:

  • Orthotic insoles
  • Use good and well-fitted shoes.
  • Cortisone injections, if prescribed in certain chronic cases by your general practitioner.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines prescribed by your GP.
  • Mallet toe splints and pads if prescribed by your healthcare practitioner.
  • Exercise (stretching and strengthening).

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How Exercises Can Straighten Hammer Toes

Hammer toe exercises can be extremely helpful in managing the condition. An exercise program that comprises strengthening and stretching programs for the lower leg, foot, ankle, and toes can relieve foot pain and prevent the progression of the deformity.

Additionally, regular exercise of the foot maintains its flexibility, promotes healing, reduces inflammation, and restores balance in the foot. All these will result in a straighter toe.

Toe Stretch Exercises for Hammer Toes

It is essential to consult your physical therapist for the treatment of hammertoes. Their prescribed foot exercises for hammertoes will help stretch the tight muscles, strengthen the weak muscles, and improve joint mobility and ligament stability.

Certain exercises which can be done to relieve and correct hammertoe are as follows:

Towel Toe Curls

This exercise might help straighten out your hammertoe by working your extensor muscles.

  1. Place a towel on the floor.
  2. In a sitting position, place your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Curl your toes and try to scrunch up the towel.
  4. Complete 10 repetitions.
  5. Extending your toes to push the scrunched towel forward.
  6. Complete 10 repetitions.

The above method amounts to the completion of 1 set. Perform 3 sets per day, about 5 times per week.

Toe Stretching With Fingers

  1. Sit on the edge of your bed.
  2. Place the affected leg on the opposite knee in a figure-4 position.
  3. Bend the toes towards you.
  4. Hold for 30-40 seconds.
  5. Bend the toes away from you.
  6. Hold for 30-40 seconds. The above method amounts to the completion of 1 set.
  7. Perform 3-5 sets, 3 times per day, 7 times per week.

Toe Stretching With Towel

This is a variation of the above-listed technique and uses a towel instead of your hands.

  1. Sit straight on the bed with your knees straight.
  2. Place a towel around the first half of your feet (ball of the feet), covering the toes.
  3. Pull the towel towards you.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20-30 secs before relaxing. You should feel the stretch in your toes and calf muscles.
  5. Perform 3-5 repetitions, 3 times per day, 7 times per week.

Spikey Ball Release and Rolls

This exercise helps in releasing the tension of the tight muscles and limited mobility of the joint. It is like a self-massage therapy technique for hammertoe relief.

  1. Sit in a position that allows you to comfortably reach your foot while it is flat on the floor.
  2. With a spikey foam or plastic ball, push down on the front portion of your feet and toes.
  3. Twist the ball clockwise and anticlockwise for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Do the same thing on the sole of your feet under the toes.

Repeat 2 times a day, especially before bed when your feet are likely to be the most fatigued.

Ankle Toe Pump Exercise

  1. Sit straight on the bed with both legs together and knees straight.
  2. With your heel touching the bed, pull your toes up to a point toward you (dorsiflexion).
  3. Hold for a few seconds.
  4. Point your toes down (dorsiflexion) and away from you.
  5. Hold for a few seconds.
  6. Repeat 10 times.

The above method amounts to the completion of 1 set. Perform 10 sets, 3 times per day, 7 times per week.

Toe Lift

This can be done on either one foot at a time or with both feet together.

  1. Sit with your feet flat out on the floor.
  2. Attempt to lift all your toes to the same height. Hold this position for up to 5 seconds.
  3. Lower your toes and repeat the process up to 10 times.

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Specific Exercises for Pinky Hammertoe

The pinky may be the smallest of the toes but if affected, it can be devastating to the owner as it also affects other parts of the body. It is particularly common in people who wear tightly fitted shoes such that the pinky toe curls under the fourth toe.

Pinky toe exercises to fix pinky hammertoe include the following;

Walking barefoot on the beach

Walking barefoot across the sand on the beach is magical. Likewise, it is a good exercise to strengthen your toes, feet, and calves. try to start with as little time as possible and aim to scale from there.

Pinky toe stretch

Starting position: Sitting

  1. Sit with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Lift your leg and place the ankle on the alternate die.
  3. Place your fingers in between your toes and use your hand to stretch the toes apart for as long as possible. Otherwise, move your toe up, down, and to every side, holding each position for 5 seconds.
  4. Put your foot back on the floor.
  5. Repeat at least ten times.

Standing Toe Stretch

Starting position: Standing

  1. With your back against a wall, cross one leg over the other at the ankle.
  2. Point the toes of the affected foot, including the pinky toe, towards the floor.
  3. Push your toes and toenails against the floor.
  4. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax the toe.
  5. Repeat 10 times on the affected foot.

How Long Does It Take To Correct Hammer Toes?

Correcting hammertoes depends upon the stage it is in and whether the deformity is flexible (mobile) or fixed. Thus, the duration of its rehabilitation and recovery varies. It may take anywhere from a few weeks to months, according to different cases.

If the hammertoe doesn't heal and the only option you have is surgery, then it may take about three to six weeks of healing time. Of all the hammertoes, pinky toe hammertoe heals the quickest.

How Do You Keep Hammer Toes From Getting Worse?

Following all the preventive and curative measures of holistic management conservatively with the consultation of a podiatrist and physiotherapist will save you from surgery and heal the hammertoe faster.

Hammertoes have a risk of getting worse with age, making it even more important to abide by your health practitioner's recommendations and treatment plan. In addition, you can also perform the following exercises to prevent the future occurrence of hammertoes. These exercises include;

  • Custom insoles Upstep's custom orthotics can be helpful in managing hammer toe, although the effectiveness may vary depending on the severity of the condition.
  • Regular sand walking Do not hesitate to take off your shoes and walk barefoot on the sand at the slightest chance. This exercise helps to massage the feet, strengthen the toes, and provide general foot conditioning.
  • Marble pick up Scatter about twenty marbles around your feet and then one after the other, try to pick the marbles using your feet alone.
  • Standing toe stretch With your back against a wall, cross your left leg over the right leg at the ankle. Then, point the toes of your left foot and push them against the floor. Hold for 5 seconds and relax your toes. You can then repeat 10 times on each foot.

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What Is the Best Cure for a Hammer Toe?

A combination of conservative management by visiting your podiatrist or physical therapist and following their treatment plan of daily exercise and stretching is the best way to cure and prevent your hammertoe from progressing and worsening further with time and age.