Hammertoes are common deformities of the toes in which the toes bend, or contract, upward at one or both of the 'knuckles', or joints in the toe. While the term hammertoe describes a specific way the toe contracts, it is also commonly used for other types of toe contractures. Hammertoes form as a result of changes that occur in the balance between muscles that draw the toe down and those that draw the toe up, spurred on by abnormalities in one's arch structure. This condition is common in those with flat feet and high arches.
Hammertoes often become painful when they become prominent against tight shoes, or when corns form on the top of the toes or in between the toes due to the combination of pressure from the underlying bone deformity and the pressure from shoes on top of or to the side of the toes.
Hammertoes cannot be permanently 'straightened' by stretching, taping, or splinting them. It is possible for hammertoe pain to be reduced by wearing wider, deeper shoes to reduce rubbing on the toes. Padding can also be used to reduce skin irritation. The only way to correct the hammertoe and reduce the contraction is through surgery. Multiple different procedures can be considered to accomplish this, including procedures that change how the tendons pull, as well as procedures that reduce part of the bone causing the contraction to remain tight and procedures to fuse the toe in a straight position.