Best Shoes for Hammer Toe

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Podiatrist showing orthopedic shoe to patient
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If you spent years wearing shoes with small, pointy toe boxes and/or high heels, you may have developed hammer toes, a deformity of a joint or joints in the second, third or fourth toe of your foot. Tight toe boxes force your toes together, and high heels put your body weight and pressure on the balls of your feet and your toes, rather than your heels. These actions cause your toes to move into an unnatural position, sticking up at the joint rather than flexing downward. Hammer toes can also be a family trait, no matter the type of shoe. 

Regardless of how your hammer toe(s) developed, finding the right footwear to prevent hammer toes from worsening and to reduce discomfort is important. Learn more about what to look for while shoe shopping.

What Shoes NOT to Buy

Shoe shopping if you have foot problems like hammer toes can be frustrating because shoes are designed and produced for the average foot. Add personal taste and the shoe’s purpose (dressy versus athletic, for example), choosing a pair of shoes gets harder. If you have a hammer toe, avoid:

  • High heels: Your heels should be no higher than two inches; the lower, the better. If you really need a bit of a lift, look at one inch or so to avoid putting too much pressure on the ball of your feet.

  • Pointy toes: On dressy shoes this may look good, but pointy toes are bad for your feet. When you wear shoes that constrict your toes, they are pushed into an unnatural position and there is nowhere for them to move.

  • Ballet flats and flip flops: Flat shoes may seem like a good idea, but if you have no or little arch in your feet, flat shoes can cause pain and promote hammer toes. (When you walk without an arch, your toes splay out and try to grip the ground to stabilize your foot every time you take a step.)

What to Look for in Shoes If You Have Hammer Toes

Shopping for shoes in a regular shoe store is probably a waste of time if you have hammer toes. You may have to shop for shoes in a department store or a specialty shoe store that sells orthopedic shoes. But unlike the old days, orthopedic shoes don’t have to be ugly and chances are, no one will even notice. Keep in mind that specialty shoe shopping takes time. Make sure you reserve plenty of time to try out different shoes and wear them around the store and on different surfaces.

The best shoes for hammer toes have these features:

  • Padding: Look for shoes that have ‘hammer toe’ padding or have enough space that you can add your own. Soft padding will cushion your feet and help reduce friction between your foot and the shoe.

  • Inserts: Shoes with removable inserts (insoles) may provide your feet with more space. Or, you can replace the generic inserts with your own insoles—either store-bought or custom-made orthotics that provide you the right amount of arch support while also padding the ball of your feet.

  • Smooth construction in the toe box: You don’t want to find seams or ridges that can rub against your toes.

  • Adjustable: Get shoes with adjustable straps or laces. The loafers you have your eye on may fit well and look nice, but if you have shoes with adjustable straps or laces, you can loosen them if your feet become swollen or sore.

  • Good heel fit: Avoid slides or slip-on shoes. Their construction forces your toes to curl when you step to keep them on, which can worsen hammer toes starting to form.

If you wear a splint (hammer toe straightener) or toe separators, bring it with you while shoe shopping. You want to ensure that it fits in the shoe. The same applies for padding you may need for bunions, calluses or irritated spots on your toes or foot.

How to Tell That Your Shoes Fit Properly

You’ve done your research, and you think you’ve found a pair of shoes you like and fit well. To increase the chances they fit you correctly and will continue to feel comfortable with wear, here are some tips:

  • Have your feet professionally measured, even if you know your size. Your feet can change size over time and shoe sizes can vary between brands. Do this at the end of the day though, because feet often swell a bit throughout the day, and you want to make sure the shoes will still fit. Measure both feet because one is often a bit larger than the other. Which brings us to our next point.

  • Buy shoes to fit the larger foot. (Your feet may differ slightly.) This way, the larger one isn’t being squeezed into too small a shoe. (Another reason to avoid slides and slip-ons.)

  • Check the shoe shape carefully. Is the toe box wide enough for you? Is it deep enough? A wide toe box is helpful, but you also need it to be high enough that there’s no rubbing on the top of your toes.

  • Check the shoe structure and construction. Is there good arch support, and is it enough and not too much? Does the shoe have enough cushioning for the ball of your foot? Are there seams that may rub against your foot while you walk?

  • Is there enough space between the end of your toes and the shoe? There should be about a half inch space there.
     

Orthotics for Hammer Toes

If you have trouble finding a shoe that fits you well because of your hammer toe, seek professional help—preferably a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon or a podiatrist—who can advise you on the best shoes for your feet. Your doctor may recommend professional orthotics custom-made for your feet. They don’t correct hammer toes, but they provide better support, comfort and mechanics for your feet, lessening the chances of developing additional foot problems. They cost several hundred dollars, but some insurance plans cover part of the cost. Ask your doctor about all your options with your budget in mind.

Bring the orthotic with you when you are trying on shoes. Many shoe stores sell good orthotics that you put inside your new shoes or shoes with built-in orthotics. These options are less expensive than custom-made orthotics and may be sufficient for your feet. 

Don’t give up on good-looking and stylish shoes if you have hammer toes. More shoe companies are realizing that different options are necessary and they have begun to offer more comfortable shoes on a regular basis.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 4
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Best Ways You Can Treat, Prevent Hammertoe. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/best-ways-you-can-treat-prevent-hammertoe/
  2. 10 Points of Proper Shoe Fit. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. http://legacy.aofas.org/footcaremd/how-to/footwear/Pages/10-Points-of-Proper-Shoefit.aspx
  3. Hammertoes Information, Treatment, and Shoes for Hammertoes. Health Feet Store. https://www.healthyfeetstore.com/hammertoes.html