Avoiding Hammertoes

Can wearing shoes that do not fit properly cause hammertoes?

Hammertoes tend to develop when the muscles in the toe, usually the second or third toe, get out of balance. As this happens, pressure builds up in the tendons and joints that ends up pushing the toe into a shape resembling a hammer. Often, the toe becomes frozen or stuck in this position. 

Partially due to the pressure exerted on the toe and partly because of the constant rubbing against the toe by shoes, hammertoes are often painful, stiff and swollen. They may also take on a reddish appearance. To make matters worse, this is the type of situation in which corns and calluses tend to grow. 

If you struggle with hammertoe, it is possible that you inherited the tendency, which may have started with having flat feet or an especially high arch, both of which can contribute to hammertoe. Arthritis is also a risk factor, as is growing older. Perhaps the most common culprit, though, is the widespread abuse that feet take due to wearing poorly fitted or poorly designed shoes. This is especially true of the shoes with high heels and pointy toes that put pressure on the toes by forcing them into unnatural positions for extended periods of time. 

How can you be sure you are making good shoe choices?

When arbitrary fashion trends take precedent over properly fitting footwear, the potential for damage is great. Although the attitudes about this have been changing, wearing high heels and pointy-toed shoes, in many cases, for decades, has led not only to painful conditions, like hammertoes, ingrown toenails and bunions, but many have been left varying degrees of disability.       

If you are already showing signs of foot issues, like hammertoes or bunions, there is a really good chance that you are wearing the wrong style of shoe or, perhaps, the wrong size. You can also be on the lookout for blisters and calluses, which are indicators of poorly fitted shoes. 

  • The thing about shoes is that they should get more comfortable with time, not the other way around. If your feet start hurting more as the day goes on, there’s a strong possibility that your shoes may not be a proper fit. It’s always a good idea to shop for shoes when your feet have had a chance to do at least a reasonable amount of the swelling that typically happens during your day. This means that an evening spent shoe shopping might be more beneficial than shopping earlier in the day.
  • Uneven wear patterns on your shoes may indicate a problem with pronation. Overpronation means that you roll your foot inward and overpronators tend to roll outward.   
  • And, of course, as is so often the case, aging can be a factor. You may be one of those people who are fitted for a comfy pair of size 9s, only to instruct the salesperson to take them back and bring out the size 7s, telling her in no uncertain terms that you were a size 7 in college and you are still a size 7! Maybe. More likely, not. Our feet do change as we get older. It’s silly to hang onto a number when a proper fit is so important. 

Hammertoes are usually painful and always unattractive. Getting fitted for the right shoes can go a long way in keeping your feet healthy and attractive.

If you have questions about hammertoe or about any foot or ankle concerns, Dr. Christopher Hubbard is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon and is the former Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in NYC. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.