A hammertoe is a foot deformity characterized by an abnormal bend in the middle joint of the second, third, or fourth toe. The deformity causes the toe to be permanently bent, resembling a hammer.

The most common cause of hammertoe is wearing shoes that fit poorly and force the toe into a bent position. Common culprits include excessively high heels and shoes that are too narrow or short for the foot. When shoes force the toes into a bent position for long periods of the time, it can cause the tendons and muscles to tighten. Eventually the toe muscles can become unable to straighten the toe, even when it is not confined by a shoe.

The most frequent hammertoe symptom is pain over the middle joint of the afflicted toe. Redness and swelling may occur at pressure points. The toes rub against the shoe, which can cause calluses and corns. A bursa may form (a fluid-filled sac that acts to cushion an area that has been subjected to excessive rubbing and friction).

Treatment for hammertoe is typically conservative and starts with new shoes with soft, roomy toe boxes. Properly fitting shoes should be one-half inch longer than your longest toe. Physical therapy may also be recommended. Hammertoe can also be corrected surgically in severe cases or when conservative treatments fail.