Hammer toe is a physical deformity that can occur on the second, third or fourth toes of the foot. When it occurs, one or more of these toes is bent downward at the middle joint, creating the telltale hammer shape. In mild instances, hammer toe can be corrected with simple measures, but it may require surgery if the situation is allowed to persist and the toes become fixed in this position.
The primary cause of hammer toe is a shoe that doesn't fit properly. When the toe box on a shoe is too small, which is the case with many women's shoes, especially high heels, it can put pressure on the toes and force them into this downward-bent position. Hammer toes are often accompanied by corns and calluses, as well, which can make the situation worse. Over time, the toes become bent permanently in this position, and they will remain that way even when no shoes are worn.
Symptoms of Hammer Toe
Aside from the physical symptoms of hammer toe, the condition can also produce pain in the foot. The corns and calluses that typically accompany hammer toe aggravate the situation. Over time, the symptoms and physical deformity of the foot can worsen it not treated.
Hammer toe can be prevented or remedied, if it's in its early stages, by ditching uncomfortable shoes in favor of more comfortable shoes with a roomy toe box. Your shoes should be large enough that there is a half-inch of space in front of your longest toe. Sandals can also help in some situations, as long as they don’t aggravate your feet in other ways.
Stretching exercises can help heal mild hammer toes, and orthotic straps and other devices can help correct mild hammer toe, too. With a more extreme hammer toe, when the position of the toes has become fixed, corrective surgery on the toes may be needed to remedy the problem.
SOURCES: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons