Hammer toe, or claw or mallet toe, can be caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes or from injury to your toes or it can be a congenital condition. It can make finding comfortable shoes a challenge and walking painful. Depending on how advanced your hammer toe is, your doctor could recommend surgery to repair it.
Hammer toe is a deformity of the foot. It usually affects your second toe, but it can also affect the others. In hammer toe, your toe bends sharply at the middle joint, pulling it into a claw-like shape. When it first develops, your hammer toe will have some flexibility, but it will become more rigid without treatment. Over time you will develop corns on the top of your toe and a callous on your sole, which can make walking for any distance painful and difficult.
Surgery is the treatment of last resort for hammer toe. If corrective shoes, splints and exercises have failed to treat the problem, your doctor might suggest surgery. The procedure can usually be performed on an outpatient basis. The type of surgery you receive depends on how many toes are affected and the severity of the deformity. For mild cases, your surgeon can shift one of the tendons in your toes. For more severe cases, your surgeon could need to cut tendons or fuse joints into position.
After undergoing hammer toe surgery, you will face a recovery period that can last for up to three months. Immediately after the surgery, you will experience pain in your toes. Your toes will swell and they could need to be bound together or braced to ensure that they heal properly. You will be able to walk, although you should not do so for long periods during the first month of recovery. You might need crutches. Keeping your foot elevated whenever possible can help reduce swelling faster.
While recovering from hammer toe surgery, you can do things to help ensure that the surgery is a success. Wearing shoes that fit properly and have large toe boxes that give your toes room to flex and bend can help. Your doctor can also show you exercises for your toes that will help maintain flexibility. You should wait to perform these exercises until your sutures have been removed and the pain from the surgery has faded. This usually occurs about three weeks into your recovery period.
There is a chance your hammer toe could reoccur after surgery. If your hammer toe was caused by an issue with your nerves or spinal cord, recurrence is more likely. If after your recovery period you wear tight-fitting narrow shoes that force your toes into a flexed position for long periods of time, you could develop hammer toe again. Following your doctor's instructions about proper footwear and foot care can help keep your toes healthy.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Hammer Toe
- MedlinePlus: Hammer Toe
- Atlas of Orthopaedic Surgery: A Multimedia Reference; Kenneth J. Koval and Joseph David Zuck; 2004.
- Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Luz
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