Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Hammertoe woes

Q. I have been told by a podiatrist that because of hammertoes, the fat pads on the ball of my foot have dissipated, causing pain when I walk or stand for long periods. I like to walk for exercise so this is a real bother. I am trying to figure out how to handle the foot and all of its idiosyncrasies.

A. The feet — they get some respect and attention, even adulation. But the toes? Not nearly enough. They help us keep our balance and are crucial to taking a good stride as we walk or run. And, as you know from firsthand experience, toe woes — hammertoes are among the most common — can take away the simple pleasure of walking. Extreme cases can be painful and quite disabling.

Hammertoes are toes that get "stuck" in a bent position because the tendons and ligaments in the digits have been pulled tight. They're called hammertoes because they resemble piano hammers. Even if our toes are short and stubby from the outside, they're gracefully constructed on the inside with three small, slender bones called phalanges (the big toe has only two). In the classic hammertoe, the joint between the middle phalanx and the innermost — the medical term is proximal — phalanx is bent at a sharp angle.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »