Common Foot Problems and Diabetes - Part 3

Hammering out the problems with hammertoes.

Joy Pape By Joy Pape, RN, BSN, CDE, WOCN, CFCN

We are continuing on about how common foot problems may not end up being so common when you have diabetes. Last month I discussed bunions, a very common foot problem. Many times people who have bunions also have hammertoes. Hammertoes are common but not without problems when you have diabetes. Read on…


Hammertoes are the bending of one or both joints in the joints of the second, third, fourth, and/or fifth toes. It can also happen in the first toe, but not as often. Most problems arise in the second toe due to the longer length of the toe.

The base of a hammertoe points up and the end of the toe points down. Hammertoes are quite common in people who have diabetes, and in people who have bunions. You don't need to have both to have hammertoes.

Heredity, tight footwear, and weaker small muscles in the feet can cause hammertoes.

Hammertoes can be flexible or rigid. They are flexible if you are able to straighten out the toes. But usually the toe will go back to the hammered position. As the deformity progresses, it becomes rigid. This means arthritic changes have set in and you cannot straighten it out without surgery.

Hammertoe problems

  • Inflammation. As with bunions, hammertoes can become painful and the deformity progresses. Inflammation causes pain, redness, swelling, and heat.
  • Pain and irritation from shoes. The raised joints can rub against shoes and cause irritation, pain, corns, and calluses. These can all cause pain and irritation as well as a wound from the constant rubbing. The irritation builds up at the joint (See picture 1.) and/or on the bottom of the toe.

           Foot 1

Hammertoe Treatment

  • Wear shoes that fit! As with bunions, the best way to hopefully prevent and treat hammertoes is to wear shoes that fit. Especially shoes that have a wide and high toe box.
  • Padding. Your health care provider can prescribe pads for your toes to decrease the friction and rubbing that causes pain and wounds. There are pads you can find over the counter, but do not use the medicated pads. (See picture 2).

            IFoot 2

  • Trimming corns and calluses. A podiatrist or specially trained healthcare provider is the only professional to ever trim you corns or calluses. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EVER DO THIS YOURSELF!
  • Orthotic devices. A custom orthotic device prescribed by a podiatrist or pedorthist may be helpful if you have muscle and tendon imbalance. There are adaptive devices to wear if your hammertoe is still flexible. They do not help once rigid except for the pads to wear directly on the joint to decrease the friction from the constant rubbing. This will help you prevent getting a wound.

EnJOY! wearing shoes that fit!

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Read more of Joy Pape's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

PREVIOUS: Double Trouble - Part 2

Last Modified Date: July 08, 2013

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by Brenda Bell
Many people say that depression is a side effect or complication of diabetes. Without discounting the association of the psychological condition with the physical one, I'm not convinced that our high and/or unstable glucose levels are directly responsible for that change in our mental state. My belief is that the unrelenting need for self-care, for following the sort of care schedules that can drive licensed, professional caregivers crazy, is what overwhelms us...
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