Pretend for a moment that your hand functions like your foot. If you simulate the movements your foot goes through as you roll your hand from palm base to fingertips across a firm surface you may be able to see how the curvature of your fingers helps your hand spring back from your manual "step". Now if you repeat that same exercise but this time you bend your index finger at the first proximal joint you should find that it is much more difficult to perform the palm to fingertip roll. While not a perfect example this quick demonstration is an approximate representation of how hammer toes can interfere with your gait.
While I'm relatively certain no one actively desires toe joints that do not function normally you ought to know that according to the Mayo Clinic website most hammer and mallet toes are "caused by shoes that are too short or heels that are too high". If sufficient room is repeatedly denied pressure from the top of the shoe may cause a corn to form on top of your toe. This should be a warning sign that a toe does not have enough room inside of a shoe so if you see evidence of corns a hammer toe may be somewhere in your foot's future.
Hammer toes may be classified as flexible or rigid. If the toe is still flexible a hammer toe may be coaxed back to its original state however if a formerly flexible toe has become rigid the hammer toe owner may be compelled to seek surgical correction which may or may not be successful. While some hammer toes are the result of inadequate room inside of a shoe there are also some disease states that can cause foot deformities. People that suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, foot related birth defects, nerve damage, certain foot and spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, poor circulation and some connective tissue disorders may have a predisposition towards hammer toe acquisition.
While properly fitting footwear can help you avoid the unpleasantness associated with hammer toes if you already have them you need to learn how footwear can be manipulated to work with your toes. Having a high roomy toebox will give hammer toes the room they need. If your footwear is not tall enough for your toes certain shoe materials such as leather can be stretched to accommodate your toes. While surgical correction of a dysfunctional joint is possible refusing to change your footwear after surgery may cause hammer toes to return so make sure you fully understand the risks of wearing shoes that damage your feet.
Since hammer toes are a physical deformity some people are very sensitive about the way their feet look. Certain people are unable to prevent hammer toes from forming despite properly fitting good supportive shoes. Mallet, hammer and claw toes can be extremely painful so I believe a degree of empathy ought to be extended to those who have followed the rules and must live with this type of foot condition. People with bunions can also develop hammer toes so if you have calcium deposits on the ball joint of your foot please pay attention to how much room your toes have inside of your footwear.
Corrective splints, physical therapy and cushioning pads for corns on the tops of your toes are a few things that may help you work with your changing toe joints. One of the worst things you can do is force your foot into a shoe that does not work with your body so please do yourself a favor and abandon any footwear that does not meet your individual foot support needs. Certain shoes may help individuals with hammer toes. That type of recommendation should accompany a consultation so make sure someone is looking at your foot and making a suggestion based on their professional knowledge before purchasing a particular shoe.
To recap: hammer toes may develop naturally or they may be footwear induced. Hammer toes typically develop over time so intervening at the corn stage may help head off true hammer toe development. Depending on the degree of flexibility a hammer toe has there may be an opportunity to retrain a toe. Smart sensible shoes are always your best bet whether you have problems with your toes or not so do your body a favor: understand what type of support your foot needs and how your toes can be affected by whichever shoes you choose to wear.