High Heels and Hammertoe: What’s the Connection?

Jan 01, 2024
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Do you love high heels or sacrifice your comfort for fashion? Either way, it’s time to rethink your footwear choices, especially if you want to avoid hammertoe. Read on to see how these shoes can cause deformities in your feet and toes.

On the surface, there’s a lot to love about high heels. After all, they can make you look taller, feel more confident, and create longer lines in your silhouette. At least, that’s what the fashion industry wants us to think. 

In reality, these shoes cause serious problems with your feet and toes, including a significant deformity in the middle joint. When that occurs, it’s hard to miss because of its telltale bend that resembles a hammer, which is why the condition earned the name “hammertoe.” 

Dr. Hai-En Peng offers a variety of treatments for hammertoe at the Align Foot & Ankle Center offices in Camarillo and Santa Barbara, California. However, one of the best places to start involves kicking your high heels to the curb.

In this blog, Dr. Peng shares the connection between hammertoes and high heels and how he can help.

How hammertoes form

A hammertoe forms when a muscle imbalance occurs in the joint and tendon of a toe, causing an abnormal bend in the digit. 

Each time you straighten and bend your toes, your muscles and tendons work together to make the joint flex and straighten. However, if you leave a toe in a bent position long enough, the muscles and joints can tighten, causing it to stay bent. 

And high heels create the perfect environment for that to occur.

Why high heels cause problems

Several issues can lead to hammertoe, including injury, illnesses, and genetics. Sometimes, you can even develop this problem without a clear cause. However, there’s one thing with proven links to this issue, and that’s high-heeled shoes.

You have 28 bones in each foot, and each of your toes contains three joints — except for the big toe, which only has two. This design has a purpose: to provide a solid and stable foundation that supports your entire body whenever you’re on your feet.

High heels throw off this balance, forcing your foot into an extended downward position. That places significant pressure on the bottom portion of the forefoot and toes. And the higher the heel, the bigger the problems.

For each inch of heel you add to your shoe, you increase the pressure on the forefront of your foot by 25%. That means even a seemingly modest three-inch heel can put 75% more stress on your toes.

Spotting the signs of a hammertoe

Even the highest quality high heels can lead to hammertoe because of the improper position they force your toes into. 

Common signs of hammertoe include:

  • Pain in the affected toe, especially while wearing shoes or moving
  • Redness or swelling in the area
  • Difficulty or inability to straighten the toe
  • A callus or corn on the toe, often at the tip or middle joint
  • Problems walking

Fortunately, if you catch hammertoe in the earliest stages, you can often correct it in noninvasive ways. However, as the condition progresses, the bend can become permanent and require more advanced solutions.

Treating hammertoe

Dr. Peng uses conservative methods whenever possible to address foot issues. 

If the joint on your affected toe still has flexibility, he could recommend changing your footwear, performing specific exercises that stretch and strengthen muscles in the foot and toes, and using straps, cushions, or corn pads.

However, when hammertoe reaches a point where you can no longer move the joint, or it doesn’t respond to conservative therapies, you could require surgical treatments. 

There are a variety of techniques used to correct hammertoe, but you can usually expect the recovery time to take 4-6 weeks

Therefore, Dr. Peng recommends changing your footwear and learning more about your treatment options immediately if you notice hammertoes or other foot issues developing.

Do you have hammertoes or other high-heel-related foot problems? Contact the Align Foot & Ankle Center location nearest you to schedule a consultation with Dr. Peng today.