In the United States, foot pain is a common problem caused by various conditions. One of these painful conditions is known as hammertoe, and it affects thousands of Americans each year.
In fact, according to The Institute for Preventive Foot Health, “7 million people” suffer from hammertoe or claw toe.
Fortunately, help is available! Hammertoe surgery is an effective solution podiatrists can provide patients who qualify for the procedure.
In this article, we’ll dive into what hammertoe is and how surgery can help patients diagnosed with the condition.
What Is Hammertoe?
Hammertoe is a foot deformity that occurs due to an imbalance in the muscles, ligaments and tendons, all of which normally hold the toe straight. When left untreated, this condition will give the foot a bent shape, making it look like a hammer.
The Mayo Clinic has determined three common causes that often result in hammertoe:
- Shoes: Many cases of hammertoe are from frequently wearing tight or high heeled shoes. These kinds of shoes apply pressure to the toes causing the toes to bend. It is advised to wear shoes that fit comfortably to help protect the feet.
- Trauma: An injury such as breaking, jamming, or even stubbing the toe can cause the condition of hammertoe to develop.
- Abnormal balance of the toe muscles: An unusual balance can lead to the toe contracting from the strain.
Once symptoms appear, the next step is having a podiatrist determine if the hammertoe is fixed or flexible. WebMD defines hammertoe as flexible when “[patients] can still move [their] toe at the joint.” WebMD also goes on to explain that a rigid or fixed hammertoe occurs if “the tendons in [a patient’s] toe get rigid” and mobility is impossible.
After evaluation, a podiatrist will determine if surgery is needed. Surgery may seem daunting to some people, thanks to modern medicine, experts can help ensure patients have a successful procedure.
The Procedure Itself
The condition of the hammertoe will determine the methods that will be used in the surgery.
The most common surgical procedure for hammertoes is proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint fusion. This procedure works to straighten the toe and stabilize it by permanently fusing the two bones together. The fusing of the bones is done using a wire that helps keep the bones together until a natural fuse happens.
As modern medicine progresses, another procedure to assist patients with hammertoe was developed. This method involves the implantation of rods and screws into the toe.
For this procedure, patients are at most times given local anesthesia with slight sedation via IV, putting them in a light sleep while the surgery is underway. Afterwards, patients are able to go home the same day, once staff determines it is safe to do so. Patients are also able to walk in a protective surgical shoe the same day.
According to VeryWell Health, what’s unique about this procedure is that its steps may vary if the hammertoe is fixed or flexible.
When the hammertoe is stiff and “fixed,” a surgeon will make an incision on the top of the toe and remove the end of the bone at the joint.
On the other hand, flexible hammertoe will involve transferring the tendons from the bottom of the toe to the top to help straighten the joint.
Recovery / Healing
VeryWell Health estimates the general recovery time period between 6 weeks and 3 months, the precise recovery time is different from person to person for this surgery.
Generally, the toe heals with minimal complications especially when a patient follows the recovery instructions that include wearing a special shoe on the foot that surgery was performed on.
Patients will use a stiff-soled, surgical shoe or boot is achievable. At 2 to 4 weeks, bandages are changed. 2 to 3 weeks stitches are removed, and at 3 to 4 weeks, metal pins may be removed. To fully return to normal activities after 2 or 3 months, patients must focus on important steps that aid their recovery.
- Resting the foot by staying off of it
- Keeping the foot elevated at the level of your heart by using pillows
- Using crutches or a walker depending on how well they can walk
- Keeping the bandages clean and dry.
- Following your surgeon’s instructions for when you can start washing the area
Patients recovering from hammertoe surgery are encouraged to follow the advice from their doctors and give the body the time it needs to heal. The recovery time is generalized so any concerns and complications can be addressed by their surgeon.
A doctor may recommend further checkups after the appointment to check the progress of recovery even several weeks after the surgery. Following the medical advice given by the doctor can help reduce complications as well as ensure patients can get back to enjoying life.
How We Can Help
Foot and ankle pain can often be bothersome, but thankfully patients with hammertoe can find relief with proper treatment.
At MCR Health, our podiatrists are trained to help with hammertoe surgery along with any other foot-related issues. If you have been struggling with foot pain, contact our team for additional information at MCR Health. A podiatrist can help you decide if surgery could help make a difference in your life. Schedule an appointment today!