Hammer Toe Treatment Options

Hammer toe is a common foot deformity that can often be managed nonsurgically. If it becomes completely rigid or causes significant pain and other treatments don’t help, surgery for hammer toe is often necessary. Surgery to correct hammer toe is one of the most common procedures performed on the forefoot or toes. A qualified orthopedic surgeon can provide low-risk, outpatient care with a recovery time that is shorter than you might think.

About Hammer Toe

A surgery room with bed, equipment, and X-ray images is lit with blue light. Hammer toe is a bend in the middle joint of a toe that causes the toe to curl up. When advanced, it may be impossible to straighten the toe at all.

Hammer Toe vs. Bunion

Hammer toe occurs in the second, third, or fourth toes. Bunions occur in the big toe, or less commonly, the pinkie toe. A bunion is a bony bump on the outside of the toe that occurs as the toe drifts in toward the other toes.

What Causes Hammer Toe?

Causes can be numerous, but generally, putting pressure on the tendons and joints of the toes results in an imbalance that bends the middle joint. This can be caused by wearing shoes that don’t fit well or wearing high heels. People with a family history of hammer toe are more likely to develop the deformity. Having a bunion is also a risk factor. The big toe’s pressure on the second toe can result in a hammer toe.

Conservative Treatment for a Hammer Toe

For many patients, especially in the early stages when the toe still has some flexibility, a conservative approach to treatment is adequate. This means changing footwear or doing toe stretches and exercises.

Surgical Treatments for Hammer Toe

Typically, a soft tissue procedure is adequate when the toe has some flexibility. Options for soft tissue surgery include:

  • Tendon Lengthening. A tendon release or lengthening procedure is simple and quick. It allows the tendon to relax and the toe to straighten.
  • Tendon Transfer. Another way to straighten the tendon and toe is to remove a piece of tendon from the bottom of the toe and transfer it to the top.

Hammer Toe Arthroplasty and Arthrodesis

If the toe has become completely rigid, the surgical choice usually requires some manipulation of the bone, such as hammer toe arthroplasty or arthrodesis. Both involve altering the joint structure to straighten the toe. In an arthrodesis, the surgeon removes a small part of the bone in the affected joint and inserts a wire to hold the toe in a straight position as it heals and the bones fuse together. After it heals, the toe remains straight and can no longer bend at the middle joint. Hammer toe arthroplasty is a joint replacement procedure. It is more involved than arthrodesis, but it also allows the joint to retain full function. An orthopedic surgeon can give you the pros and cons of these two procedures to help decide which is best for you.

Before and After Hammer Toe Surgery—What to Expect

Results vary by patient, but most people experience pain relief and improved mobility after undergoing hammer toe surgery. Your surgeon will answer all questions and go over any potential risks you should weigh against the benefits. They will explain your expected recovery timeline, restrictions, and pain management plan.

How Do I Choose the Best Hammer Toe Doctor?

Choose a qualified, experienced, and Board-certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle procedures. They are best placed to offer appropriate treatment, to advise you as to when surgery is necessary, and to provide surgery with the lowest risks of complications and best outcomes.

How Do I Prepare for Surgery?

Before undergoing surgery, make sure you have had all of your questions answered and you understand what is expected of you. For instance, you may need to stop taking certain medications. Have someone available to take you home from surgery, which is usually done on an outpatient basis. Prepare your home to make it easier to get to everything you need, and plan to take some time off work. The amount of time you need off depends on how active your job is.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Hammer Toe Surgery?

Expect four to six weeks of recovery time before the swelling reduces and stiffness resolves. There may be some swelling for months after the surgery. For most patients, arthroplasty and arthrodesis require more recovery time than soft tissue procedures.

How Long Do I Have to Stay off My Feet?

Your surgeon will advise you as to the particular timeline for your situation. Most people can put some pressure on their foot right away but should avoid most activities for a few weeks. Keeping the foot elevated as much as possible will help speed healing. You may be given an inflexible boot to wear for when you do need to walk.

When Can I Drive after Hammer Toe Surgery?

If the surgery was on your right foot, you may not be able to drive for several weeks. If the surgery was on your left foot, you could be able to drive soon after surgery.

Do I Need Physical Therapy after Surgery?

Your surgeon may recommend physical therapy after your procedure. This will help you recover from the surgery, strengthen muscles, and regain full mobility sooner. Undergoing surgery is never an easy choice, but it is often the best option if pain and immobility are holding you back. If you’re looking for the best hammer toe surgeon in your area, contact us to make an appointment with an NCSH-appointed orthopedic surgeon.

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