Risks of Untreated Hammertoe

Most foot and ankle conditions will not improve over time if left untreated, but how much worse can they get? Unfortunately, when considering hammertoe or mallet toes, they can get much worse, to the point where surgery is the only viable option for relief.

If you believe that you are suffering from a hammertoe, please get in touch with our office at Best Foot Doctor to schedule a consultation. Our doctors in the NYC area service Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. We would be happy to consult with you and help you find a treatment plan for your hammertoes. It is important to remember that the earlier you intervene in the progression of the condition, the more likely you are to be able to treat it at home and without surgery. Left untreated, a hammertoe will continually worsen and will eventually not respond to at-home or even over-the-counter treatment options.

How Do I Know I Have A Hammertoe?

Hammertoes are generally very obvious and easy to identify. The toe appears bent, even when barefoot. And in the case of a fixed hammertoe, it will most likely not move at all. In earlier stages, hammertoes remain flexible but still appear bent. These bent toes may cause your toe(s) to rub on shoes, creating painful corns and calluses. These could become infected, especially if you have diabetes or a peripheral heart condition. In otherwise healthy individuals, infection is rare.

While it may be easy to identify a hammertoe, it is always best to consult with a podiatrist to confirm the diagnosis. Other ligament conditions farther inside the foot can contribute to bent toes but should be treated much differently than hammertoe. A podiatrist (foot doctor) like Best Foot Doctor can help identify your condition so that you can follow a proper treatment plan.

How Is Hammertoe Treated?

For mild to moderate hammertoes that remain flexible, the following five treatment options may help to relieve pain and provide relief. However, it is important to note that it is unlikely that these methods will permanently correct hammertoe without a doctor’s intervention. Any hammertoe that is left untreated will continue to worsen, eventually stiffening and requiring surgery to correct.

  1. Change your shoes. Improperly fitting footwear is the number one cause of foot problems and often the reason people develop hammertoes. Wear shoes with a roomy toe box and consider choosing laced or similar shoes over slip-on shoes.
  2. Use orthotics to cushion bent joints from rubbing on shoes. Bent joints that constantly rub on shoes can develop calluses that are painful and may become infected. This treatment option is most likely to help flexible hammertoes.
  3. Take over-the-counter pain medication to reduce inflammation and help you deal with pain.
  4. Tape the joint to a neighbor toe or use splints to keep it in place.
  5. Try exercises like towel curls (laying a towel flat and then crumpling it up with your toes) or picking up marbles with your toes to place into a cup. These will most likely only be helpful for flexible hammertoes.


If your hammertoes have gone untreated for an extended period and are fixed (not movable), surgery may be the only option to provide relief. Your podiatrist will advise you if you need surgery and can provide options. Most surgeries are performed as an outpatient, and few people are required to use crutches afterward. If you have concerns or questions about hammertoe or think you may need surgery, please don’t hesitate to contact the Best Foot Doctor offices and schedule an appointment.

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