Over time you might have noticed a difference in the shape of some of your toes. Hammer toes occur when one of your toes—usually one between the big and little toe—starts to bend.
It can be unsightly and a little painful, but hammer toe exercises can help straighten it out.
Toes should be straight with a natural downward curve. Hammer toes, however, have a sharp bend at the middle joint.
Hammer toes develop from wearing pointed shoes or shoes that are too small, thereby compressing your toes. This pressure creates a muscular or tendon imbalance.
Thankfully, there are a number of hammer toe exercises and techniques that can offer successful at-home hammer toe treatment.
Exercises for Hammer Toe
Hammer toe stretches and other exercises can easily be done at home to restore the shape, feeling, and functionality of your toes. Hammer toe treatment can take as little as a few minutes a day, and doesn’t require the inconvenience of using a splint. Here’s what you need to know to treat hammer toe.
1. Toe Crunch
Think of it as an abdominal crunch but you’re using your toes—instead of trying to shorten the area between your hips and your chest, you’re using the middle joint of your toe to pull the tip to the base. Sit in a comfortable chair and put a towel underneath upper half the affected foot. With your heel planted firmly on the ground, use your toes to crunch the towel up. Once you’ve reached the end of the towel, do it again and repeat 10 to 12 times. If you’d like to add some resistance, place an item on the end of the towel.
2. Toe Taps
This exercise for hammer toe stretches the joint. While sitting in the same comfortable chair, extend your big toe towards the floor while attempting to point your other toes up. Hold the position for a second, then lightly tap them back down to the floor. Do this 10 or 12 times, then reverse the process by pulling your big toe up and keeping the others on the floor.
3. Manual Hammer Toe Stretches
Using a towel to also help stretch your toes can be a part of hammer toe treatment. For this exercise, sit on the floor with your legs outstretched with a towel wrapped around your toes. Holding the ends of the towel with your hands, pull your toes toward you, holding for 20 to 30 seconds. If you want, you can forgo the towel and pull your toes with your hands instead.
This hammer toe treatment involves tapping your toes to the ground from one side to another—much like you might do with your fingers on a table while thinking or waiting. To perform this exercise, stand barefoot on a flat surface and lift all your toes off the ground, making sure to keep your heel planted. Bring the toes down one at a time, from small to big. Repeat this 10 times then go in the opposite direction.
5. Hammer Toe Finger Splint
Also known as the “squeeze,” this method involves using your fingers to create little splits between your toes to stretch them. From a seated position, comfortably bring a foot up and place it on the opposite thigh. Slide your fingers in between your toes, pinching your fingers to squeeze your toes together. Release and repeat 12 times. You can also do each toe at once by putting a finger in between and pinching.
Other Natural Ways to Treat Hammer Toe at Home
There some other ways to treat mild cases at home that don’t involve hammer toe splints, exercising, or stretching. They include:
- Pads: Mild cases can be treated by placing corn pads in between the toes, or toe caps that can be placed around the end of your toes. Both of these products should be available at your local pharmacy.
- Ice: Icing your hammer toe can offer some relief from the soreness and swelling.
- Change your shoes: Avoid pointed shoes and those that are either too short or too narrow. This might require buying a new pair of shoes or lowering the amount of time you spend wearing restrictive footwear.
- Orthotics: Using inserts may help to restore, or at least control, the muscular or tendon imbalances that lead to hammer toe.
Preventing Hammer Toe
Here are some tips on how to prevent hammer toe or to avoid experiencing it again.
1. Wear shoes that fit properly:
- a. Get your feet properly measured for length and width.
- b. Measure them at home by standing up straight so your bare foot is flat on the ground. Have somebody trace it, and measure the distance at the widest point of the outline.
- c. Shoes should ideally be the same width as your foot, but absolutely no more than one inch less.
- d. Shoes should be half an inch longer than your toes.
2. Limit the wearing of high heels.
3. Change shoes annually.
Prevent and Treat Hammer Toe with Exercise and Stretching
You can prevent hammer toe with exercises and stretches. It can be easy to forget about your toes, but keeping them healthy by performing the techniques mentioned above can help your feet carry you, pain free, to wherever you need to be!
Sources for Today’s Article:
Rail, K., “Hammer Toe Improving Exercises,” Livestrong web site, June 3, 2015; http://www.livestrong.com/article/17789-hammer-toe-exercises/, last accessed April 12, 2016.
“Best ways you can treat, prevent, hammer toe,” Cleveland Clinic web site, April 3, 2015; https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/04/best-ways-you-can-treat-prevent-hammertoe/, last accessed April 12, 2016.