Hammer Toe Exercises To Do At Home

Hammer toe isn’t always painful but it can be inconvenient and annoying.

The key to fixing a hammer toe is to catch it early and start treating it yourself. You can straighten it again if you dedicate time every day to doing foot and toe exercises.

In this article, we’re talking about the best hammer toe exercises to do at home. If you can still move your toe, get started using these exercises straight away so you don’t end up needing surgery to fix your hammer toe.

What is a hammer toe?

Hammer toe is a foot condition where there’s an abnormal curve or bend of the second joint—proximal interphalangeal—so that the tip of the toe points downwards, while the middle joint curls upwards. This gives the toe the appearance of a hammer.

This foot condition doesn’t affect your big toe, but it can occur in the second, third, or fourth toe. Hammer toe can be painful, as the affected toe can rub against the inside of the shoe or it’s forced to rub against the toe next to it. This can cause calluses and corns to form on the toe.

It’s often difficult to straighten the hammer toe and even if you’ve removed your shoes you’ll find that the toe no longer lies flat.

Causes

There are a number of factors that can lead to developing hammer toe.

One of the most common causes is poor-fitting footwear. Wearing shoes that are tight, narrow, or have pointed toe boxes places consistent pressure on your toes as they’re squeezed together.

This leaves your toes in a bent—flexed—position for extended periods of time, which causes the toes to rub against the shoe. This causes calluses and corns to develop, which exacerbates the condition.

High heels—especially if the heel height is over three inches—forces the foot down and forwards in the shoe. This increases pressure on the toe, which causes it to bend. After some time, the toe muscles become weak and can no longer straighten the toe.

Hammer toe can also be caused by muscle imbalances in the foot that put pressure on the joints and tendons of the toes. When the muscles become tight, the tendons contract—shorten—and the muscles that work in pairs are unable to stretch and straighten the toes.

Bunions can cause a hammer toe to form, as they force the second toe to bend towards the other smaller toes. This causes the second toe to consistently be flexed—bent—and in some cases the big toe can overlap the second toe.

There are also medical conditions like arthritis, diabetes mellitus, peripheral nerve damage, synovitis and spinal cord damage, which can cause one or all of the smaller toes to curl downward.

People who have unusually high arches may find that there are imbalances with the extensor and flexor tendons in their toe as pressure is distributed unevenly.

Feet that have unusually high arches tend to be less flexible and may be less stable as they have limited contact with the ground. This can lead to the muscles and tendons becoming tight, which could lead to hammer toes.

If you’ve experienced a traumatic toe injury to the toe, then this will increase your risk of developing hammer toes.

It is rare, but if there’s a history of hammer toes in your family then it will increase your risk of developing the condition, especially if you’re not wearing shoes that fit and support your feet.

Can you reverse a hammer toe?

Depending on the severity of the affected hammer toe—if it’s still flexible—then you may be able to reverse the hammer toe.

Hammer toe splints or wraps that are specifically designed to gently stretch and straighten the tendons of the toes can help. These will also prevent the toes from rubbing against each other or on the inside of the shoe.

Over-the-counter pads, straps, and  socks for hammer toes will not only help to brace your affected toes, but help to reduce friction which helps to prevent blisters, ulcerations, and corns. This will allow you to go about your daily activities without discomfort or pain.

However, if the hammer toe has become rigid—locked in place—then your doctor may recommend surgery to realign and remove the injured or deformed bone to correct the hammer toe.

Hammer Toe prevention and treatment tips

Fortunately, there are preventative measures you can put in place to prevent hammer toes. If you have hammer toes—as long as they’re still flexible—then there are changes you can make to prevent further damage.

1. Wear sensible shoes

The first change one should make is to wear shoes for hammer toes. These have a wide, spacious toe box so that your toes can splay naturally. The upper should be soft and stretchy to accommodate for any swelling and to prevent skin irritation on the raised part of the toe joint.

The space between your longest toe—which for some people is the second toe—and the front of the shoe should be a thumb’s width.

You may have to use orthotic devices to ensure that your foot has adequate support—especially in the arch of the foot—to help correct the muscle and tendon imbalance in the foot.

2. Use a pumice stone

After you’ve had a bath or shower, use a pumice stone on the corn or callus that has formed on the affected toe. This will help to reduce its size and help to keep you comfortable as you go about your daily activities.

To keep the area pliable and soft, you can apply creams like Urea Cream, as this will help to reduce redness and inflammation, moisturize the skin and promote healing.

3. Do regular foot exercises

To help keep your toes flexible and to increase the strength in the foot muscles, you should do regular foot exercises.

This will help you to move the toes individually, as well as all together. It can prevent digital contracture, which leads to hammer toes.

Why should you do exercises for your toes?

Our feet not only act as shock absorbers that prevent the vibration of each step from affecting the other joints in the body, but our toes also play an important role in all our activities.

Our toes are responsible for supporting our body weight, propelling us forward when we walk and helping us to balance.

By doing foot and toe exercises, you’ll be restoring balance between the extensor muscles and your toe flexors.

Strong and flexible feet will increase your range of motion while reducing muscle soreness, providing better support, reducing your risk of injury and reducing foot and ankle pain.

You’ll find that your overall foot health improves, you’ll experience fewer muscle cramps and your calves won’t be tight.

As your foot returns to its natural alignment, the risk of injury to your ankles, knees, hips will be reduced, as well as lower back pain. This is because you’ll no longer be altering your gait while walking.

Exercises to do at home

1. Tennis Ball Roll

Sit in a chair that will support your back—like a straight-backed chair—and keep your feet flat on the floor.

Then place a tennis ball on the floor close to your foot and place your right foot on top of the tennis ball. Applying firm pressure with your foot, move the ball by rolling it around so that you massage the bottom of your foot.

You can control the amount of pressure that’s placed on the foot and you can increase or decrease the pressure to suit your needs. Roll the tennis ball for two minutes on each foot.

If you don’t have a tennis ball, you can substitute it with a frozen bottle of water.

2. Achilles Stretch

Start this exercise by extending your arms in front of you with your palms flat against the wall. Then place your right foot behind you, keeping the knee straight.

You’ll then bend your left knee. You may have to adjust your stance, as you want to keep both heels flat on the floor.

Now, lean forward from the hips until you feel the stretch in both your Achilles tendon and calf. Hold this position for 30 seconds on each leg and do three reps.

If you want to have a deeper stretch and to feel it in a slightly different place, bend the left knee slightly more and push your hips forward.

You’ll still hold this pose for 30 seconds before switching your position with your right leg. Repeat this three times on each leg.

3. Sand or Grass Walking

Walking barefoot on grass and sand will not only stretch and strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the foot, but it will also provide a calf workout.

Just bear in mind that if you’re walking on sand, your muscles will fatigue faster as it’s harder than walking on hard, solid paths.

Go to your local park or head to the beach—or walk on the grass in your garden if you have one—then remove your shoes and socks and walk barefoot for several minutes.

4. Big-Toe Stretch

Sit in a chair while you keep your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Then place your right foot on your left leg’s thigh. Using your fingers, gently move your toe and stretch it up, down and then from side to side.

Hold the toe in the stretch, in each direction for five seconds. Repeat this 10 times on each foot.

5. Marble Pickup

For this exercise, you’re going to need a bag of marbles.

Sitting in a straight-backed chair, place a cup—or a bowl—on the floor in front of you. Then place all the marbles—or at least 20 marbles to begin with—on the floor, but keep them within grabbing distance.

Using the toes on your right foot, pick up a marble and place it in the cup—or bowl—until all the marbles are in it. Then empty it out and repeat this with your left foot. Do this three times on each foot.

6. Toe Curls

Sit in a chair that will help you to keep your back straight. Then lay a kitchen towel flat on the floor in front of you, keeping the short end in front of your toes.

Using the toes on your right foot, start to curl—scrunch—your toes so that you pull the towel towards you. Once you’ve pulled the whole towel towards you, repeat the exercise on your left foot.

To make the exercise a bit more of a challenge, you can place a weight—like a can of peaches or beans—on the corner of the far end of the towel. Then using your toes, scrunch the towel towards you.

Repeat this exercise five times on each foot.

7. Toe Extension

Sitting on a chair, keep your feet flat on the floor and then pick your right foot up and place it on your left thigh. Gently grab your toes with your hand and pull them towards your ankle. You should feel a stretch in the heel cord, as well as along the bottom of your foot.

Take your free hand and massage the arch of your foot while you hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Then swap with your left foot. You’ll repeat this exercise 10 times on each foot.

8. Toe Splay

Gently rest your feet on the floor in front of you while you’re sitting in a chair—straight-backed chair.

Now spread your toes apart as far as you can without feeling any discomfort. Hold this position for 5 seconds and then relax your foot.

Repeat this 10 times on each foot.

9. Toe Raise, Point, And Curl

While you’re sitting in a chair, keep your toes flat on the ground. Then gently raise your heels up off of the floor while making sure that only the balls of your feet and toes remain in contact with the ground. Hold this position for 5 seconds.

While your heel is off of the ground, gently start to roll your toes until the tops of your toes touch the ground. You’ll also hold this position for 5 seconds before relaxing your foot and returning to the start of the exercises.

Repeat this position of this exercise 10 times on each foot.

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