If you've got hammertoe, you know just how bothersome it can be. And you've likely realized that choosing the right footwear is key to managing the condition.
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Hammertoe is marked by an abnormal bend in one of the toes (most often not the big toe), as a result of an imbalance of the small muscles, tendons and ligaments that keep the toe straight, explains Jackie Sutera, DPM, podiatrist and Vionic Innovation Lab Member.
According to the National Foot Health Assessment 2012 commissioned by the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, an estimated 3 percent of (7 million) U.S. adults are affected by either a hammertoe or a claw toe, a similar condition that occurs when the very tip of the toe bends downwards.
"A very common cause of this condition occurs from imbalances resulting from foot structure, such as when the second toe is longer than the great toe, as longer toes tend to jam into the toe box while walking and running and eventually will cause hammering," Dr. Sutera explains. "Injuries, such as broken, stubbed or jammed toes may be more likely to develop hammertoe."
Hammertoe can also develop over time as a result of certain lifestyle choices, such as overuse of tight shoes or high-heeled shoes for long periods of time, and long periods of standing and walking in heels, notes Dr. Sutera. "This type of shoe wearing can cause the toes to become bent and contracted."
Largely due to the shoes they wear, people assigned female at birth tend to be more prone to this foot condition.
The good news: Most often, choosing the right shoe can make a world of a difference. Here, podiatrists reveal the best shoes for hammertoe
The Best Shoes for Hammertoe
- Best Overall: NAOT Galaxy (From $154.95, NAOT.com)
- Best on a Budget: Vionic Classic Walker ($105.95, VionicShoes.com)
- Best for Walking: OrthoFeet Stretch Knit (From $109.95, OrthoFeet.com)
- Best for Running: HOKA Bondi 7 ($160, Hoka.com)
- Best for Bunions and Hammertoe: Allbirds Wool Runners (From $110, Allbirds.com)
How We Chose
We reached out to four podiatrists, who offered product recommendations and broke down what to look for in shoes that can help with hammertoe. We selected these products based on their criteria, including:
- Extra depth
- Spacious toe box
Why Are Certain Shoes Marketed to Men or Women?
Although hammertoe can affect men and women equally, the foot shape often differs between the sexes, notes Najwa Javed, DPM, podiatrist with Silicon Valley Podiatry Group and founder of E'MAR Italy. “Women tend to have an overall narrower, shorter and thinner foot versus their male counterparts, while men will have wider, bulkier and deeper shoe shapes than women,” she says. “When women cannot find a wide enough shoe, podiatrists will usually recommend that they buy a men's shoe instead to give them the space they need.”
1. Best Overall: NAOT Galaxy
Thanks to a lightweight knit upper material, these shoes offer ample room for a hammertoe without limiting movement and causing irritation. They also feature the classic NAOT footbed, which Tim Oldani, DPM, podiatrist at Missouri Foot and Ankle in St. Louis, notes provides pressure relief under the metatarsals, or the foot bones that sit just behind the toe.
Another perk about this shoe is that the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) gives it a thumbs up for promoting proper foot health.
2. Best on a Budget: Vionic Classic Walker
All of Vionic's shoes feature excellent support, whether you're engaging in physical activity or staying stationary on the couch or behind a desk. Their activewear features their Active Motion System (AMS) technology that consists of an orthotic to alleviate pressure often associated with foot conditions such as hammertoe.
These shoes are made from a flexible material that's also breathable, sweat-wicking and easy to clean with a simple washcloth (it's not recommended to toss these shoes in the wash). They're also durable and long-lasting, thanks to a rubber outsole and thermoplastic heel.
3. Best for Walking: OrthoFeet Stretch Knit
Designed to enhance the comfort of patients with myriad medical conditions, from back pain and arthritis to bunions and, of course, hammertoes, these shoes are a top choice among podiatrists looking to relieve their patients' discomfort.
Thanks to their premium orthotic insoles, they give the right kind of support, and their wide toe box helps alleviate the pressure often associated with hammertoe.
"These shoes have extra depth in the toe box and a stretchable knit fabric upper to reduce irritation of hammertoes," Dr. Oldani says.
4. Best for Running: HOKA Bondi 7
For a running shoe, this pair has one of the most spacious toe boxes with added depth on the market, plus a forefoot rocker that helps reduce the gripping of the toes, notes Dr. Javed. They're packed with a ton of cushion to provide support as you click miles and are lightweight enough to not make you feel weighed down during your run.
Although these shoes are designed specifically for running, Dr. Javed points out that they can be useful for just about any activity for someone with a hammertoe.
5. Best for Bunions and Hammertoe: Allbirds Wool Runners
With a contoured upper design made of Merino wool, these stylish and comfortable shoes can accommodate even the worst of hammertoes, according to Dr. Javed.
Thanks to their wool material, they naturally regulate temperature, preventing your feet from becoming too hot or cold. They're also ethically sourced, featuring laces that are created from recycled plastic bottles and insoles created from castor bean oil.
They're also super lightweight, so you won't feel tied down like you might with a heavier shoe.
What to Look for in Shoes for Hammertoe
Here are a few features to keep in mind when shopping for the best shoes to relieve the symptoms of hammertoe.
1. Extra Room
The best fitting shoes for people with hammertoes are ones that have wide, extra-depth, soft toe boxes, Dr. Javed says. "This allows for the toes to bend and rub against the material without causing blistering," she adds. "If the toe box is narrow, the toes will become chaffed and blisters or corns can develop, which can irreversibly scar the skin."
She recommends sizing up half a size to help ensure you have this extra room.
"Hammertoes will eventually wear through leather and cause holes in your shoes. Therefore, buying materials that are easily stretchable will help give the shoe longevity," says Dr. Javed. "Adding stretching spray over prominent areas can also help to soften material without wearing it down."
She recommends avoiding synthetic leather if possible, because it does not conform well to bony protrusions.
When seeking out shoes that can help with a medical ailment such as hammertoe, it's a good idea to invest in a quality product.
"For athletic shoes, the budget is about $140 to $180, for sandals around $80 to $130 and for heels around $200 to $400," Dr. Javed says.
It's important to care for your shoes to ensure that they last the appropriate amount of time — a year or so, according to Pedram Hendizadeh, DPM, podiatrist and foot surgeon at Advanced Podiatry in the greater New York area.
"Give them a thorough clean-up job every two to three weeks to not only keep them visibly clean, but also rid them of bacteria, fungus and other microorganisms left over from all that daily sweat," he says.
- Jackie Sutera, DPM, podiatrist and Vionic Innovation Lab Member.
- National Foot Health Assessment 2012
- Arthritis Care & Research: Hallux Valgus and Lesser Toe Deformities are Highly Heritable in Adult Men and Women: the Framingham Foot Study
- Najwa Javed, DPM, podiatrist with Silicon Valley Podiatry Group and founder of E'MAR Italy
- Tim Oldani, DPM, podiatrist at Missouri Foot and Ankle in St. Louis
- Pedram Hendizadeh, DPM, podiatrist and foot surgeon at Advanced Podiatry in the greater New York area
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.