Hammertoe occurs when the second, third, or fourth toe bends at the middle joint, often as a result of wearing ill-fitting shoes. Genetics, arthritis, and muscle imbalance can also cause hammertoe. The affected toe resembles a hammer, which is where the deformity it gets its name. With hammertoe, the toe bends downward, rather than pointing straight forward. Corns or calluses frequently develop at the top of the affected joint or at the toe’s tip from pressure. Hammertoe can cause pain and can lead to loss of flexibility in the toe.

To treat hammertoe, wear comfortable shoes with large toe boxes, as it commonly develops from shoes that are too small, narrow, or high-heeled. It can also result from injury, arthritis, or a high foot arch. Shoe inserts can help when a high arch is the cause. Over-the-counter treatments are available to alleviate the related corns and calluses. Toe stretches can help restore the toe’s correct position, as well as lessen the pain.