Some common foot problems have pretty self-explanatory names — like low or high arches — but others go by some pretty confusing names that don't do much to explain what the root of the problem really is.
Take hammer toes, for instance. The medical term doesn't really depict what's going on inside the foot, so the Shop TODAY team enlisted a top podiatrist to find out what hammer toes are exactly and what causes them.
We're also rounding up some shoe and orthotic picks to help you feel as comfortable as possible if you're experiencing hammer toes.
What are hammer toes?
Some foot conditions aren't really visible to the naked eye (like plantar fasciitis), but others like hammer toes are a bit more noticeable.
"A hammer toe is a contracture at one of the joints in the toe. A classic hammer toe affects the proximal joint in the toe and causes it to point upwards," podiatrist Dr. Asim Sayed says.
Normally, toes all point in the same direction. With hammer toes, though, one part of the toe points up and looks a bit like a hammer.
"They will usually begin as a reducible deformity, meaning when you push down the toe will lay flat. But left untreated, they will become rigid and will require more aggressive treatment," Sayed says.
What cause hammer toes?
“Hammer toes can be caused by a number of things, but are mostly attributed to improper balance of the muscles and tendons in the foot or chronic use of inappropriate footwear (shoes that are too small or frequent use of flats and high heels)," Sayed says.
The American Podiatric Medical Association also notes that genetics and arthritis are also common causes of hammer toes.
What types of shoes work best for hammer toes?
Sayed recommends seeking out the following styles if you're looking to manage your hammer toe symptoms:
- Supportive athletic sneakers that contour the arch of the foot
- Shoes with a wide toe box that allows room for the toes and reduces the chance of rubbing
- Shoes with a forgiving upper material to avoid friction between the toe and shoe
- Open-toed sandals (aka no toe box) so you prevent potential rubbing
- Supportive sandals that support the arch of the foot and stabilize the heel (like Birkenstocks)
- When used sparingly, flats with arch support are OK
Sayed also recommends avoiding high heels since they increase pressure and can worsen deformities.
Insoles and orthotics for hammer toes
Wondering if insoles and orthotics can help with your hammer toes? Sayed offers the following insight.
"Arch supports could help with hammer toes depending on the degree of the deformity. A rigid deformity will not respond to any conservative treatment, but a flexible deformity should," he says.
As Sayed notes, flats are OK when worn sparingly, but you'll want to make sure that they have built-in arch support. If they don't, you can fake it 'til you make it with the addition of these Dr. Scholl's hidden arch support gel inserts.
Available in standard, wide and extra wide varieties, these insoles offer adjustable arch support and work overtime to align your legs and feet and minimize foot stress. They feature plenty of cushioning and an antimicrobial fabric that fends off odors.
If you're wearing a wide shoe to accommodate your hammer toes, you'll want a wide insole like this one from Tread Labs that offers medical-grade support for your arches. The style is also ideal for anyone who overpronates and comes with an unconditional guarantee that secures you a free replacement if they crack or lose their shape.
If it's arch support that you're seeking, you'll certainly find it in these insoles. They're chockfull of memory foam cushioning and help align your body and avoid future pain. Plus, they have an antimicrobial lining!
Sneakers for hammer toes
Available in regular and wide options and a vast array of sizes, these slip-on sneakers are an affordable option for anyone with hammer toes. They feature a breathable mesh upper material, a convenient hands-free fit and memory foam cushioning. They’re also machine-washable.
Mesh upper? Check. Foam cushioning? Yep! These responsive running shoes offer ample support for the entire foot and keep hammer toes happy by avoiding friction. Plus, the unisex style is available in 11 colors and it's made with at least 30% recycled/repurposed materials.
The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) gave this one their Seal of Acceptance and for good reason. The athletic sneaker offers arch support, shock absorption, cooling technology, and odor control and also fits custom orthotics.
This athletic walking style caters to comfort with its mesh upper material, extra cushioning, arch support and shock-absorbing insole. The shoe also earned the APMA seal of approval, so your feet can feel confident that they're in good hands.
Look mom, no hands! These hands-free sneakers let you slip right into comfort and offer several desirable features for hammer toes, including removable arch support insoles and a stretchy knit upper that eliminates pressure on feet. Last but certainly not least, it has a wide toe box that gives hammer toes the space they need.
Sandals for hammer toes
Slip-on, open-toe sandals are ideal for hammer toes because they provide plenty of room for your toes. This style from Easy Spirit comes in four colors and is made of a lightweight material that makes it easy to move around. The sandal also offers arch support, a flexible outsole and a cushioned footbed.
The name says it all: You'll feel like you're walking on a cloud while wearing these comfy sandals. The supportive style has a cozy footbed, a roomy open toe box and a walkable 1" heel that gives you a little bit of lift.
With 11 color options and two footbed styles — neutral and metatarsal — this sandal offers plenty of variety. The water-friendly style is constructed with an orthotic insole that provides stability and arch support. It also has a cushioned footbed and a shock-absorbent outsole.
Cute and comfy shoes aren't an anomaly these days, and this pair from Kuru is living proof. The braided detailing elevates the design, while the supportive footbed cradles feet in comfort. Notable features include arch and heel support and shock-absorbing cushions.
Hammer toes need room to breathe and these open-toe sandals offer up plenty of space. Available in three colors, the style has an orthotic insole that offers arch support, adjustable straps and cushioning. The ergonomic sole also offers plenty of grip!
Flats for hammer toes
Nearly 4,000 Amazon shoppers have given this bestseller a five-star rating and it's easy to see why. The style comes in 19 color options and 23 sizes, including wide options. It also has a flexible outsole, obligatory arch support and a cushioned insole. What more could you ask for?
Ideal for hammer toes and a number of other foot conditions, these double depth shoes offer lots of space for toes. They're perfect to wear around the house or while running errands, and they're also machine-washable. The shoe is made of a lightweight, stretchy material that's forgiving on feet and also features an adjustable closure.
These supportive flats cradle arches in comfort, so it's no wonder they've received the APMA Seal of Acceptance. The contoured footbed can be removed in case you prefer custom orthotics, and the style is available in medium and wide sizes.
The four-way stretchy material on these flats is perfect for hammertoes and the style also happens to offer arch support. The chic ballet flat has a durable outsole and a shock-absorbing heel, and it also has a nice round toe box.
Meet the expert
Dr. Asim Sayed, DPM, is a podiatrist and foot/ankle surgeon from Overland Park, Kansas. He previously spoke to Shop TODAY on shoe features to look for if you have heel spurs and how to tell when it's time to replace your sandals.