Hammer Toes

What is it/what happens to cause this issue?

Hammertoes happen when there is a muscle and ligament imbalance around the toe joint that causes the joint in the middle of the toe to bend and become stuck in this position. The most common symptom is rubbing and irritation on the top of the bent toe.

There are two types of hammertoes:

Flexible hammertoes- in which the toe still can be moved at the joint. This is an earlier, milder form of the problem and comes with several treatment options.
Rigid hammertoes- in which the tendons in the toe become rigid, and press the joint out of alignment. At this stage, the toe is unable to move, and surgery is needed.
Symptoms to look out for include: pain when putting on a shoe, corns forming on top of the toe joint, swelling in joint and red coloring, difficulty in moving the toe joint, pain in the ball of the foot under the bent toe.
Getting a thorough medical exam will confirm whether or not you have a hammertoe. Usually, an X-ray is part of this exam to correctly assess the extent of the deformity.

What does a typical treatment look like?

You should see a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms commonly associated with a hammertoe. You can take these steps to temporarily relieve the pain and discomfort:

  • -Wear only shoes that are broad and high across the toes, known as a wide toe-box shoe. Be sure there is at least one-half inch of space between the longest of your toes and the tip of the shoe.
  • -Be sure to give your feet a rest and don’t wear heels higher than 2 inches.
  • -Buy non-medicated hammertoe pads. They fit around the pointy top of the toe joint and are very helpful in relieving painful pressure.
  • -Gently massaging the toe may help relieve pain.
  • -If you are experiencing any swelling, ice packs help provide relief.

There are several treatment options that vary according to how severe the hammertoe:

  • -Drugs that reduce inflammation can ease the pain and swelling. Cortisone injections may be prescribed to relieve acute pain.
  • -Over-the-counter metatarsal pads
  • -The doctor may also recommend doing a variation of foot exercises to help restore muscle balance.

If the above methods do not resolve the hammertoes, surgery may be needed. This is minimal surgery that can be done in a surgery center without the need for hospitalization. There are several surgical techniques that are used to treat hammertoes effectively. In less severe cases, the doctor will remove a small piece of bone at the joint that is involved and realign the toe joint. More severe hammertoes may require more complicated surgery.

Is there a recovery time before it’s gone or does it have lingering effects?

Recovery time largely depends on the severity of the hammer toe, and type of surgery performed. Symptoms can last for weeks to months, and will slowly get better with time.
You will need to wear a special type of shoe after surgery to protect your toe and to keep it in the right position for 3 to 6 weeks. About 2 weeks after the surgery, your doctor will remove your stitches or sutures. If a pin was put in place to keep your toe straight while it heals, it will be removed 3 to 6 weeks after surgery.

What are the consequences of not treating it?
It is important to treat any of these symptoms and after treatment allow the foot and toes to rest. Ignoring this could lead to irreversible damage in your foot, and ultimately lead to a disability.