Hammertoes are –– at best –– an unsightly, irritating annoyance. With time, however, hammertoes can become very painful and prevent people from living their life to the fullest. In some cases, hammertoes may also indirectly lead to calluses, sores, and even blisters on the foot, as well as more serious medical complications. Hammertoes are fairly common, and can have many causes, including wearing improper footwear or previous foot or toe injuries. Unsurprisingly, plenty of people who suffer from hammertoes would love to correct them, but doing so can be difficult. So, how do you fix a hammertoe? Here, we’ll explain what causes hammertoes, how you can prevent them, and what steps you can take to repair them once they do form.
Causes of Hammertoes
Hammertoes can happen to anyone at any age. They are caused when muscles or tendons in a toe place too much pressure on the joint, thus forcing it to curl upward or downward. Generally speaking, though, older individuals are more likely to develop hammertoes than the rest of the population. That’s partially because hammertoes often form over a long period of time after years of wearing tight-fitting footwear (high heels in particular). In addition, some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to hammertoes. While hammertoes themselves are not genetic, they can be caused by the natural shape of one’s foot, meaning that some are naturally more at risk of developing this condition than others. For example, if your “second toe” is longer than your big toe, you could be at greater risk for developing a hammertoe.
Common causes of hammertoes include:
Shoes that are too tight such as high heels or shoes that are the wrong size can crowd your toes into a space that does not allow them to lie flat, leading to an increased risk of hammertoes.
Stubbing, jamming or breaking a toe can lead to an increased risk of developing a hammertoe in the future, especially when such a condition is not properly treated.
Imbalance Toe Muscles
A muscle imbalance in the toes can lead to instability, which can cause the toe to contract and cause further complications.
Bunions are often the cause of hammertoes, due to the pressure the big toe starts to exert on the lesser digits. As the bunion worsens it starts forcing the digits out of position, causing the classic, hammertoe contracture.
How to Prevent Hammertoes
In order to prevent hammertoes from occurring, it is important to ensure that you wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes that allow plenty of room for movement especially in the shoe’s toe box. This will avoid overcrowding and prevent your muscles from curving upward or downward for an extended period of time. Additionally, you should avoid wearing shoes that are too narrow, and avoid wearing high heels that are over 3 inches tall. Make sure to size up in shoes when necessary, as trying to squeeze your foot into tight shoes can lead to hammertoes among numerous other medical complications. This is important to keep in mind when buying shoes for children who will need to size up more often, especially when going through a growth spurt.
Flexible vs Rigid Hammertoes
Once hammertoes develop, they should be treated immediately. Like other foot conditions, hammertoes tend to get worse over time. Once a hammertoe forms, it’s not going to get better on its own. However, early diagnosis of a hammertoe could allow a patient to adopt nonsurgical methods to alleviate the pain and symptoms associated with hammertoes, as well as make some progress toward correcting them. The type of treatment that a patient can receive for hammertoes depends on their specific diagnosis.
In terms of a hammertoe diagnosis, there are essentially two types of hammertoes; flexible hammertoes, which can still bend at the joint, and rigid hammertoes, which cannot. If a patient has flexible hammertoes, a doctor may recommend that they try non-surgical methods to deal with the issue.
Non-surgical treatment methods can include:
- Switching to more comfortable footwear and cutting out tight-fitting shoes like high heels.
- Performing daily exercises to strengthen the muscles and joints in the toes.
- Wearing shoe inserts or pads to cushion and reposition the toes, and to make wearing uncomfortable shoes more bearable and less harmful.
- Over the counter pain medication such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen for the management of pain.
Although these methods of non-surgical treatment can help to manage pain associated with hammertoes, they do not treat the issue at the source, meaning that a patient can still be at risk of their condition worsening and potentially leading to additional complications in the future.
On the other hand, once a hammertoe is no longer able to bend at the joint and has become fully rigid, these more conservative treatment methods will not act to repair the damaged hammertoes. What’s more, some flexible hammertoes may end up becoming rigid even with nonsurgical treatments. In such scenarios, minimally invasive surgery is the best way to fix a hammertoe and alleviate the pain they cause.
Minimally Invasive Hammertoe Surgery
While some people may be hesitant to undergo surgery to correct their hammertoes, the reality is that minimally invasive hammertoe surgery is safe, quick, and effective. Additionally, patients who choose to undergo minimally invasive hammertoe surgery won’t have to deal with an extensive recovery period or months of immobility. That’s because expert surgeons are able to fix a hammertoe by using a very small incision, which both limits scarring and cuts down on healing time. Minimally invasive surgery treats the cause of hammertoes at the source, and is the best way to treat your pain in a way that is safe, fast, and will have you back on your feet and ready to resume your normal life free from pain in no time.
At Northwest Surgery Center, we are proud to offer minimally invasive surgery for the treatment of issues such as hammertoes that effectively serves as a better alternative to traditional surgery. The local anesthesia we use during these procedures is similar to the anesthesia you get at your dentist – it leaves you feeling relaxed, and prevents you from feeling any pain. We do not put patients to sleep, because our minimally invasive procedures are done using small and virtually painless incisions that make both the surgery and a patient’s recovery as fast and easy as possible. Patients are treated in one of our modern surgery suites where they will undergo the entire procedure – including preoperative preparation and postoperative care – in under 90 minutes. Since patients are not put to sleep during the procedure, they can walk immediately following surgery, and can expect to drive themselves home from our clinic.
The recovery period for such a procedure typically includes extra rest and limited pressure being placed on the foot for a few days following surgery. Most patients report experiencing little to no pain while recovering from the procedure.
Tired of letting painful and unsightly hammertoes interfere with your day to day life? It might be time to undergo surgery. Treat your hammertoes at the source and get back to living free from pain with a minimally invasive procedure from Northwest Surgery Center. Our expert team has the skills, resources, and the experience to ensure positive outcomes for our patients. Plain and simple, we can help you correct painful and annoying hammertoes for good. Contact us today for more information or to schedule a free consultation!