What Is a Hammer Toe Deformity?
Generally, a hammer toe affects the middle joint of the second, third, or fourth toe. The proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint suffers an abnormal bend, causing the toe to appear curled. It gets stuck in an upside-down V shape.
Patients experience loss of flexibility, difficulty moving or straightening the toe, and moderate to severe pain. Swelling, redness, and a burning sensation are common symptoms, too. A hammer toe can make it difficult for patients to walk, and corns and sores often form from the toe rubbing inside the shoe.
A hammer toe can affect almost anyone, but there are risk factors associated with this condition. Women are more prone to this type of toe deformity. Arthritis, diabetes, and older age are also risk factors, as is a family history of hammer toe and other related conditions. These factors increase the risk of developing hammer toe when suffering trauma or injury to the foot.
Possible Treatment Plans for a Hammer Toe
The amount of time it takes to correct a hammer toe depends on the treatment plan, and the plan depends on the severity of the individual case. Treating a hammer toe in children may differ from treating older adults. An experienced podiatrist will custom-tailor an effective hammer toe treatment plan for each patient.
Conservative Treatment Options for a Hammer Toe
- Medication for pain relief
- Padding and taping to promote correct positioning
- Splinting to promote better alignment
- Repositioning the toe with orthotic shoe inserts
- Exercising and physical therapy to stretch and strengthen toe muscles
- Using corticosteroid injections to reduce swelling
- Changing to shoes that are softer, wider, and roomier
Even most moderate hammer toe cases can be treated using these methods. Surgery is a last resort, reserved for more severe cases that don’t respond to conservative measures. Minimally invasive surgery may only require small incisions under local anesthetic. Patients recover quickly and go home the same day.
Another procedure is arthroplasty, where part of the affected joint is removed. Arthrodesis involves removing the entire joint and inserting special hardware. With weil osteotomy, the metatarsal bone is shortened, and surgical hardware is inserted. Your podiatrist can explain these options to you if necessary.
Timeline for Recovering From Hammer Toe Surgery
In rare cases, hammer toe corrective surgery may be relatively fast; however, it may take several months to completely recover. Most patients can expect to get back on their feet after several weeks. Ongoing treatment and physical therapy can help improve movement and flexibility over the course of several months.
A General Recovery Timeline Following Surgery
- You’ll likely wear a boot or cast to protect the toe. You can bear weight right after surgery wearing the boot. In some cases, you may only have bandages and no boot.
- You’ll keep the surgery area dry until your doctor removes the bandages a few days later.
- You’ll elevate the foot above heart level when sitting or lying down. This can help reduce swelling. You may ice the affected area, too. Do this for about three days.
- Your stitches and sutures will likely be removed about two weeks after surgery.
- Your pins and other temporary devices will likely be removed about three to six weeks after surgery.
- You can return to wearing loose, comfortable shoes after three to six weeks.
- You’ll likely be guided by a physical therapy recovery plan. Try to walk a little each day, gaining mobility and confidence.
- You likely won’t be able to drive for up to six weeks after surgery. You can discuss this with your podiatrist.
- You likely won’t be able to walk or stand for long periods for six weeks or more.
- You can expect to take at least one to four weeks off from work. Physically strenuous jobs may need a longer recovery time.
It may feel like you can get back on your feet in about six weeks, but the affected toe can be red, swollen, or stiff for months after surgery. Everyone’s situation is different. It’s important to take as much time as needed to encourage proper healing. Your podiatrist can offer advice about pain medication.
Making Informed Decisions About Your Care
A hammer toe can be painful and debilitating. You may be anxious to get it corrected as quickly as possible, but rushing back to daily levels of activity may increase your chances of suffering another injury. It is important to discuss treatment options with your podiatrist. They can explain how long it may take to correct your hammer toe and a timeframe for recovery. With this insight, you can make better-informed decisions about your care.