Nailing a Treatment for Hammer Toe

Moving Ahead     Fall 2018     Spring 2019

If you have a toe that bends upward at the middle joint, even when you’re at rest, you may have hammer toe.

Hammer toe is a deformity of any or all toes except the big toe. As the name suggests, toes bent by the condition look like a hammer. In the early stages, hammer toes are still flexible. But if left untreated, the bend in the toe’s joint becomes rigid.

What Causes Hammer Toe?

The most common cause of hammer toe is a muscle or tendon imbalance. Hammer toes are further aggravated when wearing shoes that don’t fit properly:

Shoes that narrow at the front, pushing your toes into a bent position

High heels that force toes to bend

When toes are bent repeatedly for long periods, the muscles can tighten. This makes them difficult to straighten.

At first, the toe maintains flexibility and can be straightened, though not easily. At this point, your hammer toe can be treated without surgery.

But without the proper treatment your toe will eventually become rigid, unable to straighten whether you are wearing shoes or not.

Hammer toes are further aggravated when wearing shoes that don’t fit properly.

How Is Hammer Toe Treated?

Nailing Treatment for Hammertoe small

In the early stages, treatment begins with being fitted for shoes that are soft and roomy at the toes and one-half inch longer than your longest toe. Your health care provider may:

Recommend shoe inserts to reposition your toe and relieve pressure and pain

Give you toe stretching exercises (like picking up a marble with your toe or squeezing your toe around a pencil) to stretch and strengthen the toe muscles

Hammer toes usually start as mild deformities that worsen over time. They don’t go away on their own. Seeking treatment early works best.

Will You Need Surgery?

If treatment doesn’t correct your hammer toe, your doctor may recommend surgery to release the tendon that’s preventing your toe from straightening. In some cases, your surgeon might remove a piece of bone to straighten your toe and/or insert a pin to stabilize the toe while it heals.

Typically, surgery involves local anesthesia (numbing the foot while you remain awake). No overnight hospital stay is needed. Afterwards, stiffness, swelling and redness are common. Your recovery time will depend on the severity of your condition and the number of toes involved.

You may be able to walk shortly after surgery with a special surgical shoe. Complete healing can take several weeks. Surgery on your right foot will affect your ability to drive for a while.

Does Hammer Toe Come Back?

Your hammer toe could come back after surgery. If this happens and your toe becomes painful, an additional surgery may be needed to relieve the pain.