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Will You Need Surgery to Fix Your Hammer Toe?

Dr. Eman Elmi
August 2, 2022
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A hammer toe is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes. It happens when the muscles and ligaments around the toe joint become maladjusted. The result is the middle joint of your toe buckling and becoming fixed in this position. As a result, it takes in the appearance of a hammer shape. Ill-fitting shoes most commonly cause a hammer toe. High-heeled shoes or footwear that's too tight can crowd your toes and cause them to curl. When you force your toes into this buckled position for prolonged periods, they may take on it permanently. 

Hammer toe symptoms may be mild or severe. Sometimes the curled position can create abrasions from rubbing on the tops and sides of tight or restrictive shoes. This can lead to calluses or corns that can be painful. Sometimes it can even cause open sores, which can be a potentially dangerous complication. If you have diabetes or any health conditions that make you susceptible to infection, open sores can lead to other serious issues. Hammer toe pain can be severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to perform daily tasks. It can also interfere with a person's ability to participate in activities they enjoy.  

What Is Hammer Toe? Is Surgery The Answer?

When you search for “what is hammer toe,” you’ll discover there are two primary types. Your hammer toe type will determine what treatment will be most effective. Initial consultation and physical exam by a podiatrist can help you decipher between the following types:

  • Flexible hammertoes— characterized by toes you can still move somewhat freely at the joint. This is a mild form of hammer toe that can likely be treated conservatively. 
  • Rigid hammertoes— these do not allow for unrestricted movement at the joint. At this stage, the rigidity of the tendon in your toe presses the common out of alignment. This type of hammer toe usually requires surgery to correct. 

Initial treatment of hammer toes will involve treating symptoms to alleviate pain. One of the first things recommended is changing your shoe style and size. A properly fitting shoe should extend at least a half inch past your toes; custom orthotics can help alleviate pain. 

Other helpful options include taping or splinting your hammer toe to make it straight. Practicing strength and flexibility exercises may provide relief in the short and long term. Icing the affected area can help alleviate symptoms and reduce swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen can help with temporary pain relief. In severe cases, steroid injections may be helpful.

If your hammer toe is classified as rigid and has severe pain, you may be a candidate for a surgical procedure to correct it. However, surgery is usually only for severe deformities causing pain and/or mobility issues.

There are several surgical options available, many of which are minimally invasive with little recovery time. A consultation with a foot and ankle specialist will help you decide which one is best for you.  The most commonly performed surgery for hammer toe correction is referred to as a proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint fusion procedure. It is also widely used to treat metatarsalgia, a condition characterized by pain at the ball of the foot. During this operation, the toe is straightened and stabilized by permanently fusing the two bones. It involves removing the joint surfaces and pinning them straight until the bone has grown across or fused. 

Hammer Toes Can Be A Thing Of The Past 

The more you take care of your feet, the better they will perform for you. Diablo Foot and Ankle can help. If you are having trouble with hammer toes or want to get a consultation about your condition, contact us today. Hammer toe surgery could be a potential option. We offer a wide range of foot and ankle issues.

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