Hammertoes—along with the related mallet toes and claw toes—are one of the most common foot deformities, affecting millions of Americans. In these conditions, toes get “locked” into a bended shape at one or more of the joints, resembling a hammer and potentially leading to pain, difficulty walking, or complications such as corns and calluses.
Choosing Surgery—Pros and Cons
It’s important to note that, while it may be possible to manage your symptoms or slow the progression of a hammertoe using conservative treatments, there is no way to “correct” the deformity other than surgery. That doesn’t mean surgery is necessarily the best course of action, however.
After your consultation, we’ll make sure you’re fully aware of all your options and can make an appropriate choice for your current needs. Less severe hammertoes may be sufficiently controlled through options such as padding, taping, splinting, orthotics, physical therapy, or other techniques. Furthermore, certain conditions (such as poor circulation) could make surgery riskier in your situation.
However, if your hammertoes are causing you a lot of pain and conservative care isn’t helping, surgery is likely your best choice. In the long run, the years of future pain relief and increased mobility it can give you is more than worth the temporary cost of recovery time.
There is no one-size-fits all hammertoe surgery. During our evaluation, your surgeon will carefully review the particulars of your case and develop a surgical plan that will give you the best overall results with the fastest healing time possible.
Some common procedures include:
- Tendon transfers. This is most commonly chosen for hammertoes that remain somewhat flexible at the joint. The surgeon will carefully transfer tendons from the bottom of the toe to the top, rebalancing the forces acting on the joint and pulling the digit back into a straightened position.
- Joint resection / arthroplasty. In this procedure, an incision is made (typically on the top of the toe) and the end section of the affected bones is trimmed and cut, allowing the toe to lie flat. Ligaments and tendons may be cut as necessary to help straighten the toe. Pins and needles are inserted to provide immobilization during the healing process.
- Joint fusion / arthrodesis. This time, the ends of both bones are cut, the toe is realigned, and the affected bones fuse together during healing. In essence, the joint is removed and the toe becomes locked in a flat position, rather than a bent position. Fusion is normally selected for older patients, those with severe deformities, or those who have had previous surgeries that failed.
What Happens Next
The full timeline of recovery and rehabilitation will depend on many factors, including the procedure(s) used, your overall health status, and your level of adherence to all instructions for post-surgical care.
For the first few weeks, you’ll be asked to keep the weight off your feet—we’ll provide items such as walking boots or crutches as necessary. You may need to take some time off work, and if the surgery was on your right foot you may not be able to drive for at least a couple of weeks. Stitches and pins may come out typically after 2-4 weeks.
Gradually, according to the timeline we provide for you, you’ll slowly be able to return to wearing normal shoes and engaging in some light weight-bearing activity. At this time, we’ll coach you through the kinds of stretches, exercises, and rehabilitation you’ll need to regain full strength and mobility.
For years, Ohioans and Kentuckians have benefited from the talents, tools, and experience of Family Foot & Ankle Center’s experts in the treatment and correction of hammertoes, whether conservative or surgical. Don’t suffer a day longer than you have to—calls us today and learn how you can find relief. You can set an appointment at one of our 6 Greater Cincinnati locations by calling 888-689-3317.