Curling Toes | Hammer Toe | Hammertoe | PainfulOver the years, many causes have been given for the curling or buckling of the toes (hammertoes).  In fact, some state the primary cause of hammertoes are poor fitting shoes, others state the cause is how the foot functions or how an individual walks, and others state the primary cause is genetic.  The truth is, however, that all these causes can influence the presentation or progression of hammertoes.  Let's discuss these most common causes:


Do Shoes Cause Hammertoes?

Shoes are rarely a true cause of hammertoes, but are definitely an aggravating factor.  In fairness, tight shoes, pointy shoes, high heels and poor fitting shoes have all been shown to create painful hammertoes.  This may be primary, but may also be secondary to other causes that are aggravated by shoes that aren't good for your feet.  Some individuals that wear these poor shoes have no foot pain and don't develop hammertoes.

Remember, if you have a tendency for hammertoes, or have curly toes since birth, poor shoes worn on a regular basis will cause your hammertoes to become painful and more problematic.  We can help you understand how to choose a quality shoe.


Is How I Walk The Cause Of My Hammertoes?

How you walk or how you run may be an aggravating factor in hammertoes.  The foot is designed with muscles and tendons on the top and bottom of toes.  Flexor tendons pull toes toward the floor and extensor tendons pull the toes away from the floor.  When one of these muscles (flexor or extensor) overpowers the other, it causes the toes to curl.  This commonly occurs as the foot rolls through walking or running (gait pattern) as the toes work to maintain contact with the ground.

So the answer is that walking patterns can cause hammertoes to develop by one muscle overpowering the other.  One solution for this is placement of a custom orthotic in your walking or running shoes to modify the gait pattern.  This simple fix can often slow the progression of hammertoes.


Did I Get Hammertoes From My Parents?

The biggest cause of hammertoes is from your parents. If a parent (or both parents) have toes that curl, have previously been diagnosed with hammertoes or have painful toes in a shoe, this is usually a bad sign for your feet.  Although a parent's feet are not a guarantee of your foot development over time, the risk is much higher.  In our recent examination of feet that are developing hammertoes, we are seeing close to 80%-90% that have family members with the same problem.  

With this understanding, shoes definitely play a role in the speed that hammertoes develop and walking pattern may be the inherited trait that causes these to develop.  Whatever the cause, hammertoes are developing and may require treatment.

Brandt R Gibson, DPM
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Podiatrist, Neuropathy Doctor, Father of 11 and Founder of Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute