Is Surgery Required for Hammertoes?

Hammertoes are a common source of foot discomfort and embarrassment. The condition can also interfere with normal foot function and the way you move.

A hammertoe appears as a bent second, third, fourth, or fifth toe at the first joint, called the proximal interphalangeal joint. Without treatment, the condition can worsen, limiting movement and normal activities. 

Jeremy Moran, DPM, provides professional hammertoe services at his private practice, ToeOp, in Tomball, Texas. Dr. Moran determines which hammertoe treatment is right for you based on a thorough examination of the affected toe and the way it affects your comfort and ability to move. 

Nonsurgical hammertoe treatments are typically most effective in cases of “flexible hammertoe,” when your hammertoe is still moveable at the joint. When the condition has progressed to “rigid hammertoe,” in which the tendons are tight and the affected joint is immobile and misaligned, surgery may be your only treatment option. 

Nonsurgical treatments can produce the best results in the early stages of hammertoe. Here, we explain the conservative options for treating your hammertoe.

Change shoe style

A hammertoe can result from an unnatural bending of one or both joints in an affected toe. This progressive deformity usually worsens over time when left untreated. 

Wearing shoes that are too tight or narrow in the toe box can force your toes into a space where they remain in a flexed position and can’t lie flat. Wearing high heels has the same effect. Keeping your toes in this flexed position for long periods can make it difficult for your toes to resume a normal, flat position when you’re barefoot. 

Avoid tight, pointy shoes. Instead, choose shoes that have roomy toe boxes, which allow your feet to lie flat. There should be a half-inch of space between the tip of the shoe and your longest toe. The heel should not be higher than 2 inches.

Be sure you’re wearing the proper shoe size. Since your foot size can change with age, you should have your feet measured regularly. 

Wear hammertoe orthotics

Taping, splinting, and cushioning can reduce discomfort by gently forcing the affected toe into a more natural position. Depending on your condition, Dr. Moran may recommend one or more of the following hammertoe orthotics:

Ball-of-foot cushions

The pain of a hammertoe may be transferred to the metatarsal, the five large bones of your feet that attach to your toes. Cushions that protect the ball of your foot or provide extra support under your toes may provide relief.

Hammertoe crest pads

Hammertoe crest pads fit across the bottom of your toes to ease pressure on the tips of your toes and relieve stress on the metatarsal. They can also prevent corns, calluses, and blisters from forming where the toes rub together because of misalignment.

Toe wraps 

Toe wraps bind your hammertoe to the toe next to it. While this method of taping won’t straighten the toe permanently, it can force the toe into a natural position that can relieve discomfort.

Toe separators, relaxers, or stretchers

Toe separators, or toe stretchers, have five toe hole cutouts and padding that separate your toes. Different styles are meant to be worn either with or without shoes. The purpose is to stretch your toes and prevent your toes from rubbing together or against your shoe. 

Custom orthotics

Custom orthotics are personalized shoe inserts that position your foot correctly. They can offset biomechanical irregularities such as flat feet or high arches that cause an imbalance in the muscles, ligaments, or tendons that keep your toes straight. 

Perform toe exercises

If your hammertoe is still flexible, you may benefit from exercises that strengthen your toes and counter foot discomfort. These exercises involve movements such as using the affected toe to pick up marbles or a towel on the floor. 

You can also use a towel to help stretch and lengthen curved muscles. Gently pulling on your toes to stretch bent joints using slow, gentle pulls can also help stretch bent joints when done several times throughout the day. 

Take pain relievers

The pain that accompanies your hammertoe can range from annoying to excruciating. The result can affect the way you move and affect your quality of life. 

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce the pain and inflammation caused by a hammertoe, making it easier for you to move normally. 

Find out more about treating your hammertoe without surgery. Schedule an appointment for a foot examination by calling us at ToeOp today.

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