Hammertoe occurs when the tendon controlling the toe is shortened. Hammertoe affects the joints in the toes, causing the toes to buckle, then to bend and poke out at an odd angle. The affected toe resembles a hammer. This deformity affects the second, third and fourth toes. This can be a very debilitating condition. As the condition progresses, the toe joints can be dislocated, causing even more pain and difficulty walking. Early in the condition, the toes are still flexible and can be treated easily. As hammertoe progresses, the toes become rigid and require surgery.
Various treatment options are available to correct hammertoe, depending on the severity and length of the condition. Hammertoe correction treatments include:
- Changes in shoe wear – Since hammertoe is often a result of improper shoes, this will most likely be the first nonsurgical treatment recommended by your doctor. Wearing sandals or shoes with enough space for the toes to lie down will help alleviate hammertoe in its early stages. You will need to avoid high heels, pointed toes and shoes that are too small.
- Orthotic devices – A shoe insert used to provide extra cushion and support for your feet is called an orthotic device. You can purchase these at a drug store or your local sporting goods store. There are also custom-made shoe inserts that your doctor can prescribe for you. Changing the way your foot sits in your shoe is very helpful in treating hammertoe and its painful symptoms.
- Splinting/strapping – Your doctor or surgeon may use splints or small straps to realign the bent toe.
- Trimming corns and calluses – Your doctor can carefully trim the corns and calluses that form around the affected joints in your feet. Never attempt to do this yourself because the risk of infection from improper trimming is too great.
- Padding corns and calluses – Specially designed pads can be used to protect the corns and calluses from further irritation. Your doctor can recommend and prescribe the proper pads.
- Cortisone injections – This steroidal medication can be injected directly into the inflamed tissues surrounding the affected joints. This treatment will relieve pain and inflammation caused by hammertoe.
- Anti-inflammatory medications – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen are used to help control pain and inflammation.
If nonsurgical treatment is ineffective or if the condition has progressed beyond nonsurgical means, then corrective surgery will be recommended. The two common types of correction surgery include:
- Arthroplasty – During this procedure the surgeon will remove small parts of bone on either side of the middle joint in the toe. This helps the toes to uncurl and straighten out.
- Arthrodesis – This procedure is reserved for cases in which the hammertoe has progressed severely and caused the affected toe to become very stiff and rigid. The surgeon will fuse the small joint in the toe to straighten it back to its normal position. A small pin typically is used to hold the joint in place as the toe heals. The result of this surgery is that the hammertoe is corrected, but you will be unable to bend your toe again.
The multidisciplinary team of foot experts at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute performs hammertoe correction as well as a broad range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for conditions that affect the foot and ankle.