To diagnose hammertoe or mallet toe, a health care provider inspects the foot. X-rays can help show the bones and joints of the feet and toes. But they're not always needed.


For toes that can still unbend, roomier footwear and shoe inserts, called orthotics, or pads might give relief. Inserts, pads or taping can move the toe and ease pressure and pain.

Also, your health care provider might suggest exercises to stretch and strengthen toe muscles. These might include using toes to pick up marbles or scrunch a towel.

If these treatments don't help, your care provider might suggest surgery. The surgery can release the tendon that's keeping the toe curled up. Sometimes, the surgeon also removes a piece of bone to straighten the toe.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Good footwear can ease foot pain. Wear low-heeled shoes with a big toe box made of material that has some give to it. Make sure there's a half-inch (1.27 centimeters) of space between your longest toe and the inside tip of the shoe. Having enough space for your toes will help relieve pressure and pain.

Preparing for your appointment

If you're having a problem with your feet, you'll likely start by seeing your primary care provider. Or you may be referred to a foot specialist, either a podiatrist or orthopedist.

What you can do

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Your symptoms, including any that seem unrelated to your foot problems, and when they began.
  • Key personal information, including injuries to your toes.
  • All medicines, vitamins or other supplements you take, including doses.
  • Questions to ask your health care provider.

For hammertoe or mallet toe, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What's likely causing my foot problems?
  • What are other possible causes?
  • What tests do I need?
  • Am I likely to have this condition over time?
  • What's the best course of action?
  • Am I a candidate for surgery? Why?
  • Are there restrictions I need to follow?
  • Should I see a specialist?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?

Don't hesitate to ask other questions.

What to expect from your doctor

Your health care provider is likely to ask you questions, such as:

  • How much pain are your feet or toes causing you?
  • Where is the pain exactly?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
  • What type of shoes do you usually wear?
April 06, 2023
  1. Fields KB. Evaluation and diagnosis of common causes of forefoot pain in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 9, 2022.
  2. Hammer toe. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/hammer-toe/. Accessed Nov. 9, 2022.
  3. Hammer toe deformity. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal-and-connective-tissue-disorders/foot-and-ankle-disorders/hammer-toe-deformity. Accessed Nov. 9, 2022.
  4. Hammer toes. American Podiatric Medical Association. https://www.apma.org/Patients/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=1863. Accessed Nov. 9, 2022.
  5. Firestein GS, et al. Foot and ankle pain. In: Firestein & Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 11th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 8, 2022.
  6. Balance-boosting footwear tips for older people. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons https://www.apma.org/Patients/HealthyFeetTips.cfm?ItemNumber=10050. Accessed Nov. 10, 2022.
  7. Papadakis MA, et al., eds. Hammertoe. In: Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2023. 62nd ed. McGraw Hill; 2023. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Nov. 10, 2023.


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