Curls belong on the ribbons of balloons, in your hair, and in the form curly French fries. They do
not, however, belong on your toes! Hammer toe is a condition where the toe begins to take an abnormal shape; the toe curls under forming a hammer-like shape just as the name suggests.
Any toe can become affected with hammer toe when the joints, ligaments, and muscles supporting that toe become weakened or damaged. This type of condition can result from a toe injury, arthritis, high arches, tight-fitting shoes, or even from related conditions like bunions. Most sufferers are women that develop the condition after wearing pointy-toed shoes or high heels. The tell-tale symptom of hammer toe is the unnatural curvature of the toe downward. Other symptoms may include calluses from the toe rubbing the shoe or increased difficulty walking. In some cases, people may have difficulty flexing the foot or toe. If you are having pain that is impairing your mobility, call your doctor for help.
What can I do for relief?
Your Physician Partners of America podiatrist will help diagnose your condition and come up with the most effective treatment plan for your specific case. Each treatment plan will depend on the severity of the condition and your doctor’s assessment of what is likely the cause of your hammer toe. For example, with tight footwear or unsupported arches, the right shoes and inserts can help make a difference. Your physician may even provide some exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles to help. More severe cases may require surgical correction.
When a hammer toe first develops, it may retain some flexibility but as time goes on, the tendons cause the toe to curl permanently. If you still have flexibility in your toe, this is a good sign and a mild case. However, if your toe has become rigid, your case has become severe and surgery is required. Your doctor can diagnosis hammer toe with an examination. Those with diabetes or poor circulation are also at increased risk with hammertoes and should see a doctor as soon as possible.
What if I need surgery?
If surgery is decided as the best course of action, your surgeon will discuss their approach. Surgical approaches differ in correcting a hammer toe: some cut and adjust the tendons, others target the bone, and still others focus on the joint to help realign the tissues in the toe. Your surgeon will use the approach that is best suited to your specific case and the unique causes for your hammer toe.
Usually surgery becomes an option when other treatments like orthotics and exercises fail or when the toe loses all mobility. Surgeries are done on an outpatient basis and require small incisions to the affected toe. A pin or wire may be used to help the recovery. Small sutures will close the incision before their removal 7-10 days later.
After your surgery, you are able to return home for your recovery. Your foot will be bandaged and you may have a protective boot to make sure your foot is cushioned when walking. Within the first 2 weeks, many patients are able to get back to walking. The full recovery window is about 1-3 months, but can depend on which toe was corrected and how well you carry out your post-op instructions. Your physician may ask that you keep the toe elevated as much as possible and apply ice to keep the swelling down. They may also instruct you to refrain from long walks or other lifestyle choices like smoking that could interfere with a speedy recovery.