Hammertoe starts out pretty harmless but it can soon escalate into something more serious. Find out more about hammertoe surgery and if it’s really necessary.
Hammertoe is a medical condition where the middle joint of one or more toes becomes bent upward. This bend causes the toe tip to rotate downwards or to the left, causing it to resemble a hammer. The resultant pain can lead many to opt for hammertoe surgery.
It’s a problem with a lot of potential complications, as well. Ulcers may form when the bent toe rubs against a shoe or sock seam. And that’s not to say anything about the discomfort of a toe jammed up against a poorly-fitted shoe.
There’s a misconception among people with this problem, that surgery is the only option for remedying the effects of a hammertoe. Let’s take a closer look at this sensitive issue and how proper foot treatment can help you regain your quality of life.
What Causes Hammertoe?
Hammer and mallet toes are foot deformities usually caused by an imbalance in the muscles or tendons holding the toes straight. The toe in question will be abnormally bent at the middle joint, usually jutting out at an uncomfortable angle. A mallet toe will affect the joints closest to the toenail, and both hammer and mallet toes tend to occur on the second, third and fourth toes.
Something many people don’t know is that hammertoes don’t necessarily have to bend in their trademark “hammer” shape. Baby toes have been shown to curl, rather than buckle.
Women are more likely to experience pain from hammertoes than men because of their constrictive shoes. They can also present a serious problem for people with diabetes or poor circulation.
There are actually two types of hammertoe:
- Flexible hammertoes. Toes can still move at their joint. This is a flexible form of this condition, with several possible treatment options.
- Rigid hammertoes. Tendons in the toe become overly rigid, pressing the joint out of alignment. By this point, the toe can’t move, and will typically require surgery in order to treat.
Treatment Options: Is Hammertoe Surgery All There Is?
The telltale sign of hammertoe is a toe that has bent and stayed locked that way, despite the angle being unnatural or uncomfortable. You’ll need a qualified medical professional to give you an official diagnosis, from this point.
Once you have one, though, it’s time to seek treatment. For a hammertoe, you’ll need to consult with a doctor, not just for the diagnosis, but for ongoing treatment specific to your injury.
There are steps you can take before receiving treatment, however:
- Shoes with a wide and comfortable toe box. Aim for a minimum of half an inch between the longest toe and the tip of the shoe. This can be a big or second toe.
- No heels taller than two inches.
- Choose shoes based on what you’ll be doing.
- Non-medicated hammertoe pads. These pads wrap around the top of the toe joints, helping to relieve a build-up of painful pressure.
- Gentle massage.
- Applying ice packs to reduce swelling.
Now, obviously, these are all just stop-measures to help you cope before remedying the underlying problem. Depending on how severe your situation is, there are various options available:
Keep in mind that “well-made” doesn’t necessarily mean “expensive” when it comes to shoes. Simple, comfortable shoes from a known brand can often be just the right fit. You’ll need something with arch support, a soft insole, and padding around the bony points of your toes.
Qualified health care providers can create custom inserts with the exact right size and shape for your specific shoe. These will help to reduce pain and stop the hammer from developing any further.
Prescription and certain over the counter drugs can help to reduce inflammation in the toes and feet, relieving pain and swelling. A doctor may use a cortisone injection in order to relieve acute pain.
Metatarsal pad, which can be purchased without a prescription, can be placed in the shoe and may help as well.
A medical professional may also recommend certain foot exercises to restore the muscles that give your toes their shape. This will help to strengthen and coax these muscles into their proper shape.
Splinting and hammer toe straightening can also help if it’s carried out at an early stage. This is done because the bones in the toes are so small and close together. The best way to make one grow straight is to lash it to another one that already is.
When Surgery Is Needed
If one of the above hammertoe treatment methods doesn’t work, surgery may be required. Often, it can be carried out in a surgical center without the need for hospitalization.
Several surgical techniques are used to treat hammertoes. If the problem is less serious, the doctor may remove a small piece of bone from the joint and rearrange it for the best results.
A more serious hammertoe could require more complex surgery. This could mean cutting or transplanting tendons and ligaments between the bones of the toe and nearby muscles. In other cases, it might mean fusing the joint in order to straighten the toe, thus making it unable to bend.
Hammertoe Surgery Recovery Time
Toe surgery can be a serious process, especially if the condition itself has gotten quite bad. Full recovery may take up to three months, depending on your preexisting health and the procedure in question.
Surgical pins and wires may be required, during this time, holding bones in place while they heal. You may also need to wear a custom shoe to displace your weight across your heel, protecting and stabilizing your foot during your recovery.
Stop: Hammertoe (Using Various Medical Treatments and Therapies)
Hammertoe surgery doesn’t have to be the only treatment option for this uncomfortable condition. Of course, that depends on the severity of your condition. Your own personal preferences also play a part in the decision. Ultimately, however, a medical professional is your best bet to make the treatment clear.
Ultimately, it’s all a matter of prescribed treatment, therapy, and targeted exercises. For more on everything from podiatry to pediatrics and even dentistry, check out our comprehensive blog or pay us a visit, today!