Treatments for Hammer Toes
Hammer toes can make wearing shoes a genuine nightmare. The moment you slip into your footwear, you know the pain won't be far behind. When someone suggests going for a walk, you wonder why they hate you. It's a serious nuisance.
The good news is there are treatments and even operative interventions if things go out of hand.
What Is Hammer Toe?
Hammertoe is a foot deformity caused by a bend in one or both toe joints of your second, third, or fourth toes. This bend shapes your toe like a hammer, hence the name.
While it may sound like a mostly cosmetic issue, hammer toes can be a source of pain, irritation, and health problems. It's a good thing, then, that the condition progresses slowly. However, you still need to take measures if you want to get better. Sadly, hammer toe rarely (if ever) goes away on its own.
At first, it starts as a slight bend. It looks like a simple toe muscle imbalance affecting your middle joint, while your toe keeps its flexibility. That's why most people ignore it at this stage.
If left untreated, the condition gets progressively worse. The muscles tighten, while the bend increases and begins to harden. This is when most people start to notice something is afoot. Since the toe is in a bent position, it starts to rub into the inside of the shoes, and pain and irritation start to fire warnings. Corns and calluses aren't far behind.
It's best to start taking measures before you get to this point. If the condition progresses far enough, surgery becomes the only viable option for relief.
What Causes Hammer Toe?
The causes of hammertoe are relatively well understood. They're most commonly a result of muscle or tendon imbalance in the toe, which causes the bend.
The source of this imbalance can be traced back to:
- Genetics. If hammer toes run in your family, you're very likely to develop them.
- Foot injuries. Stubbing, hitting, or breaking your toe can cause you to develop hammer toe
- Diseases, like arthritis, can cause foot deformities, including hammer toe
A detailed examination would allow us to determine the cause in your particular case. Don't hesitate to book your appointment so we can see what we're dealing with.
Several factors increase the risk of developing hammer toe:
- Tight shoes. Tight and narrow shoes can compress the toes, forcing them into an awkward position. In time, this compression creates an imbalance that keeps the toe in a bent position even when you go barefoot.
- Ill-fitting shoes. Avoid wearing shoes that don't fit properly and lead to poor circulation.
- High heeled shoes. They usually have pointed toes and make it next to impossible to keep your toe straight, leading to deformities
- Women are at a much higher risk of developing hammer toe than men.
- Age. Older people are more prone to foot deformities, and this includes hammer toe.
- Toe length. If your second toe is longer than your big toe, the chance of developing a hammer toe increases dramatically.
- Flat feet. The joints need to work extra hard to stabilize your foot when you have flat feet, which increases the chance of foot deformities.
Altering your footwear can be a game-changer, especially if the condition is in the early stages of development.
Hammertoe presents with clear symptoms, including:
- A bend or contracture of the toe
- Corns and calluses, caused by the fiction with the shoe
- Pain and irritation at the point of contact with the shoe
- Limited mobility or pain when trying to extend the toe
- Inflammation or redness
If the soft tissues and tendons begin to tighten, this is an obvious sign the condition has progressed far and the window of opportunity for non-surgical treatment is closing rapidly.
How Do We Diagnose Hammertoe?
Given the apparent symptoms of the condition (such as the bent toe), physical examination is usually enough to diagnose. However, your doctor may order an X-ray to determine the severity of the bend and examine the structural changes in the affected toe.
Hammer Toe Treatment
If treatment begins on time, then non-operative treatments can be very effective. Here are some recommendations:
- Wear wider shoes. Since compressing your toes is one of the contributing factors to developing the condition, wider footwear is a good way to begin the treatment. Comfortable shoes with a deep toe box will give your toes enough room without putting them into an unnatural position. You'd want to avoid high heels.
- Orthotics. Specialized shoe inserts work by compensating for the tendon and muscle imbalance in your toe.
- Corn pads. Pads can help shield your toes from rubbing against the inside of your shoe and causing pain. However, don't use medicated pads unless you've consulted your podiatrist first.
- Exercises. If the condition hasn't reached the advanced stages, yet, a good way to slow down its progression is by doing stretching and strengthening exercises.
We don't recommend self-treating with OTC medication for pain relief. For example, ibuprofen may be a good way to treat pain and inflammation, but it may also mask your symptoms while your condition slowly worsens.
If you're in pain, don't hesitate to schedule an appointment with a foot and ankle specialist. We can help.
When Do You Need Hammer Toe Correction Surgery?
Sometimes, the window for non-surgical treatment has been firmly shut. When you reach that point, hammer toe correction surgery may be the only option left for relief. We usually recommend this option if we've exhausted all other possibilities or you're in severe pain.
During the procedure, your orthopaedic surgeons will surgically realign the toe joint, remove excess tissue or bone in the area, and release the tendon that prevents your toe from lying flat. In some cases, the bones are fused together with the help of a pin (called a K-wire), or a rod.
If you have other foot deformities, such as bunions, you may choose to combine the procedures. Consult with your podiatrist to determine the best approach to your particular case.
Are There Any Risks?
No surgery is without risk. Some of the side effects you might experience include:
- Slow healing
However, those are rare. The hammertoe correction procedure has a very high success rate. If you're worried, you can discuss the potential risks with your foot and ankle specialist.
How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Hammertoe Correction Surgery?
The typical recovery time for our patients after a hammer toe correction surgery is between six and 12 weeks. However, the full recovery time after your can take up to six months, depending on factors, such as:
- The type of surgery
- Your age
- General wellbeing
- Post-operative care
You may need physical therapy afterward.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind:
- You'll have to wear a surgical boot to protect your toes and keep them in the right position for three to six weeks.
- Driving will be off-limits for a few weeks
- You should avoid putting weight on the operated foot
- You'll need to take a few weeks off work. How exactly will depend on your job, with sedentary jobs requiring the shortest downtime
- Sports and lifting heavy objects should wait until you've fully recovered
Life won't get back to normal immediately, but it's sensible in the long run. Getting back to enjoying a pain-free life is worth a few weeks of inconvenience.
Not sure what treatment is best for you? Make an appointment online today and we'll help you make an informed decision.