Hammer toe is a condition in which a toe bends down at the end like a claw. Usually affecting the second toe, one or more toes can be affected. This toe deformity is often caused by wearing tight shoes, which inhibit normal foot movement. At first, the bent toe is still flexible, but if untreated, the toe becomes rigid. Early treatment with exercises -- while the toe is still flexible -- can help straighten the toe to a normal position. If you have diabetes, consult your medical doctor before you do foot exercises.
If your hammer toe is on your left foot, cross your left leg over your right leg. Place one finger between your hammer toe and the adjacent toe. Squeeze your finger with your toes. If your toes are flexible enough, interlock your fingers and toes and repeat the exercise. Alternate squeezing and spreading your toes 10 times. Perform this exercise one or more times each day.
The toe-tap exercise is similar to tapping your fingers on a table. Standing in your bare feet, flex your toes upward, off the floor. Then, starting with your little toe and working up to your big toe, tap your toes back down on the floor, in a waving sort of motion. Repeat the exercise 10 times daily.
The floor grip exercise focuses on the pads of your toes. Standing in bare feet, stretch your toes outward to straighten them as much as possible and press the pads of your toes against the floor. This straightening and pressing helps realign the bones in your hammer toe, allowing the affected joint -- the proximal interphalangeal joint -- to relax so the proximal phalanx -- bone closest to the main part of your foot -- can return to a normal position. You can also do this exercise in properly fitting shoes. If you can't do the exercise, your shoes are too tight.
Crumpling up a towel with your toes stretches and exercises your toes to loosen up your toe joints. You can do the exercise either standing or sitting. Just toss a small towel onto the floor and crumple it up with your toes, then straighten it back out and repeat. Add resistance by placing something heavy on end of the towel. In "Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation," Frontera and Silver recommend picking up a towel with your toes to strengthen and exercise the intrinsic muscles of your foot, which helps to correct hammer toes.
Stretch and massage your toes manually to help reverse hammer toes. Sit in a comfortable position and cross one leg over the other. Pull and stretch the affected toes with your fingers. Hold each stretch for several seconds. Stop if you feel pain.
- Lake Erie Podiatry: Exercises for Hammertoes
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Hammer Toe
- Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; Walter R. Frontera and Julie K. Silver
- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
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