Have you noticed that your toes are bent in abnormal shapes, making it difficult to fit into many of your shoes? Is it becoming more difficult to stand or walk without feeling pain? Are you wondering what’s going on? Here’s one possible answer: you may be dealing with hammertoes.
Hammertoes develop due to muscle weakening in your feet and toes. The abnormal bending you may have already noticed occurs when the weaker muscles cause your tendons to shorten. This shortening makes your toes curl up or bend, and, over time, they remain stuck in that position.
If you suspect that you’re developing a hammertoe, your first step should be to go see your podiatrist. In order to get to the exact root of your problem, you’ll need a full examination; in some case an MRI or Ultrasound may be necessary to determine the full extent of your issue.
Seeing your body change shapes can be scary, and many patients may delay seeking hammertoe treatment because they fear surgery. But here’s the good news: if you come see us sooner, we can attempt to treat your hammertoes with non-surgical methods. And, less invasive treatment options will mean a faster and less painful recovery period!
Non-surgical Treatments for Hammertoes
Especially if caught early, we can often minimize the pain of hammertoes, and prevent their progression, with non-surgical methods. Here are just some of the options available to patients who seek early intervention for hammertoes:
- Shoe changes: We’ll guide you towards shoes with wide, deep toe boxes that won’t press painfully on your toes. These shoes can also protect you from corns and calluses, which are common in people with this condition.
- Workouts: The key to keeping hammertoes from becoming painful is to help maintain flexibility in your toes. By providing you with exercises to strengthen your toes, we can keep them from stiffening up and leaving you in pain.
- Support: Splints for your toes can help keep them in a less-painful position. We may also recommend custom orthotics, to help correct imbalances in your foot that may be contributing to the changes in your toes. If corns and calluses have already become a problem, we can also pad the affected areas to prevent further discomfort.
- Medications: When pain is a major issue with hammertoes, we can prescribe medication or injections to help you walk more comfortably.
Whenever possible, we will attempt to treat hammertoes without surgery. But in some cases, surgery will be your best option for relief. Let’s take a closer look at what would make a person a good candidate for hammertoe surgery.
When should my hammertoe be treated surgically?
As we mentioned before, our goal in treating hammertoes is to minimize pain and maintain your flexibility. If your toes stiffen up, however, and the pain starts to limit your ability to get through daily tasks, surgery may be appropriate.
The goal of hammertoe surgery is to straighten out your deformed toe. There are several ways this can be accomplished. One common method is for your podiatrist to fuse one or both small joints within your affected toe. But, with this surgical method, you’ll be left with a pin (called a k-wire) sticking out of your toe in order to keep your bones in place as they heal. Why? Since your toes are so small, there isn’t much room for the internal pins that could maintain this fusion. So, you’re left looking a little scary while you recover.
And while the process sounds more frightening than it actually is, if you’re not feeling this process, don’t despair: there are other options available. In some cases, your podiatrist will be able to use an absorbable pin, or internal implant, to keep your newly-straightened to in place.
Another option that’s available now? Tendon transfers! This idea makes a lot of sense, since many hammertoes develop because of changes in your tendons, not in your bones. Just be aware of the fact that tendon transfers are only an option if your hammertoe is still flexible—yet another reason to come see our Elmhurst podiatrists at the first sign of a problem!
How successful is hammertoe surgery?
Here’s some good news: hammertoe surgeries come with a very high success rate, and very few instances of complications. Better yet? Any post-operative pain you may experience is typically fairly mild!
Common side effects of hammertoe surgery include swelling and slight stiffness. Both will usually resolve within a few months of your procedure. In some cases, you may develop hammertoes in a different toe; rarely, the same toe that was surgically corrected can experience a relapse.
In order to prevent post-surgical complications, it will be crucial to follow your doctor’s instructions. And, following your doctor’s guidance, you should make careful shoe selections, and work to correct any weaknesses or imbalances in your legs and feet. With proper post-operative care, however, your hammertoe surgery should be smooth and successful!