Hammer toes are the distortion of the bones of any of the toes from wearing high heels, from sports or occupational injuries or from a genetic trait so that the toes point to the center of the foot instead of straight away from the ankle bone. There are simple exercises you can do to work all the small muscles of the foot and toes to help straighten the toes. Sometimes, more detailed physical therapy or even surgery is needed.
Wear shoes that do not crowd the toes, as many women’s shoes do. It is considered dainty to have very small feet but if you do not, do not force yourself to wear shoes that are clearly too small. Hammer toes result from obvious injuries in sports or from on-the-job activity, but generally is from wearing ill-fitting shoes. If you do wear high heels for some reason, kick them off at the office under your desk and flex and extend the toes. That lengthens all the muscles of the toes and foot (plantar fascia on the soles) and gives the small metatarsal bones of the toes therapeutic traction.
Sit in a chair comfortably with bare feet resting on a clean towel placed on the floor. Set only one foot on the towel to start. Using only your toes, curl them around the towel from the top to bottom edge. Doing so, you will feel all the muscles of your foot working—even to the point of getting a muscle cramp at the end. Repeat with the other foot. Next, set your bare foot on a wooden “footsie roller” which is short wooden dowel about six inches long that is ribbed. Roll your bare foot over this wooden roller as it rests on the floor. Doing that will help remove adhesions where the muscles stick and become stiff.
From a physical therapy standpoint, to help straighten out hammer toes, you have covered important ground: done two exercises to work the muscles of the foot and toes and a stretching movement to remove cramping or adhesion. Now, select shoes that reinforce the extra space you have made between each toe. There are sandals called “yoga sandals” that are flip-flop sandals that are designed so that each toe is distinctly separated from each other. This will help a hammer toe that curls, as it prevents the toe from curling towards the center and lines it up straight away with the ankle bone. Alternately, sleep with “toe separaters” found in beauty supply stores. They are made from foam and used to keep toes apart during a pedicure.