If you have some carpentry work to do at your home, you might need a hammer. If you’re looking for pain and discomfort at the front of your feet, hammertoes could certainly fit the bill! In this condition, one or several toes (often the second, but sometimes the third and fourth) gets stuck in a flexed position at the middle joint. Without treatment, the deformity gradually gets worse over time, leading to more pain and difficulty walking, so it’s best to seek treatment as soon as you can.
A Story of Deteriorating Toes
In the early stages, this toe problem may simply seem a minor annoyance. Sure, the toe may suffer a slight bend, but the joint is still flexible (that is, you can pull it straight with your fingers) and may not cause much discomfort—yet.
However, this is a progressive condition. It won’t get better on its own, only worse, and as it does you may have more problems. Corns and calluses may begin to form as joints and tips rub painfully against the tops and bottoms of shoes. In time, the once-flexible joint becomes rigidly locked in place, and it may become more difficult to wear shoes, walk, or go about your daily activities without discomfort. At this point, surgery may be your only viable recourse.
What Causes Hammertoes?
In mechanical terms, the issue is a slowly developing muscle and/or tendon imbalance. Muscles work in pairs to flex or extend toes at a joint, just as they do for arms or legs. When one muscle in a pair becomes significantly weaker than the other, however, it may lose the ability to re-extend the toe on its own.
But how does the imbalance occur in the first place? In truth, a variety of possibilities exist. The deformity may be a natural consequence of an inherited problem, perhaps a flawed foot structure or neurological condition. Or, it could be caused (or at least exacerbated) by injuries or lifestyle choices: dancers, athletes, and those who frequently wear high heels or other tight, restrictive footwear can be more susceptible. These types of shoes or activities may force the toes into an uncomfortable, high-pressure, flexed position for extended periods of time.
Managing or Fixing Your Hammertoes
Unfortunately, these bent toe joints can only be “fixed” through surgical means. Once the bend has occurred, it won’t be reversed by any other means.
However, that does not mean surgery is inevitable! Our goal is to limit your pain and keep you walking and moving as normally and comfortably as possible for as long as possible, and this can frequently be achieved through conservative means if you seek treatment early.
Such measures can include:
- Switching to roomier, more generous shoes that give your hammertoes space to move free from friction
- Pads that shield hot spots from corn-producing friction
- Oral medications or injections that relieve pain and swelling
- Splinting, buddy taping, or other aids that can keep a flexible hammertoe properly aligned
- Physical therapy and stretching to prevent muscle imbalances from getting worse
- Shoe inserts or custom orthotics that accommodate underlying structural flaws and protect toes from added pressure
If, however, your bent toe has become rigidly locked, and/or conservative treatments have failed to provide enough relief to let you live the healthy, active life you desire, we will discuss your surgical options.
In general, surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure and you can go home the same day, and the vast majority of people are happy with the results. However, as with any surgery there are some risks, and you will need to follow a specific set of instructions before and after your procedure to give yourself the best possible chance for a successful outcome. We’ll always take as much time as needed to be sure that you are fully informed and fully prepared each step of the way.
Don’t wait until your hammertoes become a major problem. When you see that distinctive bend, please call Massapequa Podiatry Associates at (516) 541-9000. You can also request an appointment online using our contact form.