Hammertoes cause disfigurement of your second, third, fourth, or fifth toe at the proximal interphalangeal joint, which is the middle joint of the toe. The condition causes the damaged toe to bend down so that it resembles the shape of a hammer.
Hammertoes can cause pain when you stand or walk. The condition can also interfere with proper balance and contribute to the formation of corns and calluses.
Without treatment, hammertoes worsen over time. Correcting the condition can relieve discomfort, restore normal movement, and improve the appearance of your foot.
Board-certified orthopedic surgeon W. Joseph Absi, MD, of Orthopaedics of Atlanta and Aesthetic Institute in Smyrna, Georgia, provides a full range of orthopedic services, including hammertoe correction, to help patients maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Based on a thorough examination, medical history, and review of imaging tests, Dr. Absi determines the most appropriate treatment for your condition.
While nonsurgical treatments can deliver results in the early stages of hammertoe formation, surgery may be the only option for treatment in more advanced cases. Learn more about options for hammertoe treatment.
Choose appropriate shoes
Shoes that have a tight or narrow toe box can force your toes to remain in a flexed position with no room to lie flat. High heels produce the same effect.
Wearing these types of shoes leaves your toes in this unnatural position and makes it difficult for them to return to their normal position when you remove your shoes.
Shoes with a roomy toe box have enough space for your feet to lie flat. Wearing heels no higher than 2 inches avoids positioning your feet so they force your toes into the ends of your shoes.
Ensure that you’re wearing the proper shoe size. Your shoes should have a half-inch of space between your longest toe and the end of your shoe.
Use hammertoe orthotics
Hammertoe orthotics can reduce foot pain by gently pushing the damaged toe into a more natural position. The type of orthotic that works best depends on the condition of your foot and the extent of your hammertoe progression.
Hammertoe orthotics include:
Hammertoe crest pads
These fit across the bottom of your toes to ease pressure on the tips of your toes and relieve stress on the affected joint.
These protect the ball of your foot and provide extra support under your toes.
Binding your hammertoe to a normal neighboring toe forces the damaged toe into a more natural position to relieve pain.
Toe separators and relaxers
These stretch your toes and prevent them from rubbing against each other or against your shoe.
Inserts personalized to your foot can offset biomechanical irregularities, like high arches or flat feet, that may interfere with keeping your toes straight.
Practice toe exercises
In earlier stages of development, hammertoes are still flexible enough to benefit from exercises to strengthen your toes and counter foot discomfort. These exercises can be as simple as using the damaged toe to pick up objects like a towel or marbles on the floor.
You can also help lengthen and stretch curved muscles by gently pulling on your affected toes. Using slow, gentle pulls several times a day can help to stretch bent toe joints.
Take pain relievers
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can ease the pain and inflammation of hammertoes, allowing your feet to move normally.
Investigate hammertoe surgery
When lifestyle and medication don’t reduce hammertoe pain and foot dysfunction, surgery may be the answer. The specific technique used depends on the type and extent of your deformity.
A common procedure for hammertoe surgery involves arthrodesis, or fusion surgery. In this procedure, the toe is straightened by permanently fusing the two bones. This involves cutting ligaments, tendons, and the ends of the bones in the joint that joins them.
A temporary wire or pins are used to hold the bones in place until they fuse naturally. In some cases, rods and screws are permanently implanted in the affected toe to ensure it remains straight over time.
Other surgical techniques for hammertoe correction include:
This involves removing a section of bone from the joint so it can lie flat.
This procedure lengthens the tendons by removing fibrous tissue that forms when a tendon has been forced into a contracted position for a long period.
Transferring a tendon from the bottom of the affected toe to the top gives the affected toe more strength to return to a straight position.
Hammertoe surgery is performed under local anesthesia with sedation or general anesthesia. Recovery can take 6-8 weeks, depending on the method used and your physical condition.
Find out more about ways to treat unsightly and painful hammertoes. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Absi, call our office or make an appointment online.