Treatment Options for Hammertoes
Hammertoes can certainly look and feel like something that only surgery can have any real chance of relieving. And while it will be true that surgical correction may be the best or only option for some cases, that does not mean the same is true for everyone.
Depending on the severity of a hammertoe, as well as how it is affecting your life, there may be the potential to treat the deformity using conservative methods. This would not “get rid of” the hammertoe, but it can manage it in a way that eliminates most or all uncomfortable symptoms, as well as slow or stop further progression of the deformity.
If you have been letting a fear of surgery – or just the idea that you wouldn’t have any other choice – stop you from seeking help for your hammertoes, we highly encourage you to contact us for a consultation. There is a good chance you have more options than you think.
Hammertoe Options that Do Not Involve Surgery
Conservative forms of treatment typically have the best results the sooner they are administered in the life of a hammertoe. At the earliest stages, a hammertoe remains more flexible, making it easier to manipulate and accommodate. As the condition becomes more rigid, it becomes more difficult for conservative measures to work – but not always impossible.
Non-surgical treatments for hammertoes can range from relatively simple to more complex, and more than one type of treatment may be recommended. Potential options can include:
- Changes in Footwear – Sometimes, switching to more accommodative shoes can make a big difference to your comfort. This can include shoes with larger toe boxes, as well as shoes with lower heels to reduce the amount of pressure exerted on the forefoot.
- Custom Orthotics – In situations when more precise forms of cushioning and corrective support are needed, custom orthotics can further redistribute pressure away from unstable toe joints. They can also help counter certain gait abnormalities that might be contributing to progression of the deformity.
- Conditioning Stretches and Exercises – Under certain circumstances, we can recommend simple toe stretches and exercises that you can perform at home. These will help strengthen and condition the muscles, ligaments, and other tissues surrounding the unstable joints of your toes, as well as help maintain flexibility and range of motion. All of these factors can add up to greater overall stability and comfort, as well as reducing the rate at which a hammertoe progresses.
- Cushioning – If your toes are unavoidably rubbing up against the insides of your shoes (or each other), it can cause friction-based problems such as corns and sores. We may recommend specialized cushions or pads to provide a barrier for relief. Some of these items are available over the counter. If you seek them out yourself, we recommend not using any medicated pads, as the extra moisture and chemicals may cause problems for some patients.
- Straps or Braces – Holding your toes in alignment with straps, braces, or other medical equipment can help slow progression and provide added comfort. When and how long each device should be used will vary by patient.
What Hammertoe Surgery Might Look Like
If conservative methods of treatment aren’t providing results – or it’s clear from the start they wouldn’t – we may then consider hammertoe surgery. Like conservative treatments, however, there is not just one form of surgery, but a number of procedures that vary in complexity.
When considering what form of surgical procedure is best for a patient, we must consider the severity of the condition, as well as the lifestyle of the patient and any relevant medical factors.
Some potential surgical procedures for hammertoes include:
- Joint Resection – Certain ligaments and tendons around the joint are cut to help straighten the toe. A portion of the bone may also be removed. This procedure may also involve inserting temporary pins to keep the toe in place. These pins are removed several weeks following the procedure.
- Tendon Transfer – For more flexible hammertoes, a tendon can be manipulated to pull the toe into a straighter position, overcoming a weak muscle. This procedure can also be an effective means of reducing discomfort.
- Fusion – For a severely rigid hammertoe, we might sometimes recommend fusing the joint together. This reduces mobility in the toe, but can also straighten it out and help relieve pain. The procedure typically involves cutting tendons and ligaments, as well as the ends of the bones to help them stay in place and grow together.
- Amputation – This may sound extreme, but in cases where a hammertoe is very severe, rigid, and painful, removal of the toe may be the best option for lasting relief. This procedure can affect balance, so it is only considered when absolutely necessary.
There are other procedures that may be considered. If surgery is an option for your situation, we will fully discuss all possibilities with you, including what you may expect from them. We will also gladly answer any and all questions you may have.
What Can We Do for Your Hammertoes?
It bears repeating: the sooner you seek professional care for your hammertoes, the better your odds that conservative treatments will be successful. You may not necessarily need to have a hammertoe corrected in order for to keep it from interfering with your daily activities.
When you come in to see us, we will conduct a thorough review of your toes as well as learn more about how they are affecting your day-to-day. Once we have enough information, we can discuss routes for treatment, whether they may be conservative or surgical.
Call our Princeton office at (609) 924-8333 or our Roselle Park office at (908) 687-5757 to schedule an appointment. If you prefer to contact us electronically, please feel free to fill out our online contact form instead.