Facts about Alternatives to Hammertoe Surgery
Toes are funny little appendages, yet they carry a pretty big responsibility that can be interrupted with a condition like having a hammertoe. Surgery isn’t always required, however, to correct the condition.
What is hammertoe?
Toes are jointed digits; a feature that allows them to be prehensile. The ability to flex and bend is also beneficial when we walk or run, as the toes can move to the need of the foot. When putting on footwear, the toes are flexible enough that they can adapt to the contours of the shoe. This can be helpful for us, but can also cause a problem called hammertoe. Shoes that are too narrow at the front or are higher in the back than the front can crunch the toes into a confined area and, over time, the toes can become deformed as they grow accustomed to being in this hunched position. Those who have a muscular imbalance can also develop hammertoe.
So what exactly is hammertoe? It is a deformity in which the toe actually takes on a shape similar to that of a hammer, bent over at the second joint so that the tip of the toes automatically points downward. It occurs because the tendons in the toe tighten and shorten; pulling the toe in as though it was a claw. Typically found in toes in the second, third or fourth position, this condition can cause pain, especially if it goes untreated.
Treatments for hammertoe
If the condition is not advanced and the tendon causing the hammertoe still has some of its flexibility, it may be treatable without surgery. The toe can be trained to lie flat once again with the help of padding, splints and special exercises.
- Splinting the toe forces it to stay flat, stretching the tendons to retain their natural length and flexibility.
- Cushions and padding decrease the discomfort of the top of the toe rubbing against the shoes.
- Exercises can regain flexibility of the toes, stretching out the tight tendons. These may include:
- Picking up items from the floor using only the toes
- Placing a hand towel on the floor, use toes to scrunch the towel.
- Stretch the toes out as far as possible
To ease the pain that the condition can cause, aspirin may be recommended. If corns or bunions have developed due to the friction of the deformed toe rubbing against the shoe, commercial preparations may be advised, as well.
For some who experience hammertoe, surgery may be the only recourse to remedy the condition. In most cases, the surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure, using only a local anesthetic. To straighten the toes, a small section of bone is removed from the toe. This allows the remaining bones to lie straight. Expect to have swelling, bruising and pain for up to two months following the surgery. It will be possible to walk, although spending long periods of time on the feet is discouraged as it could hamper the healing process. The surgery is considered to be only minimally invasive, so healing of the incision itself is often quick and the possibility of infection is greatly reduced. Pain can generally be controlled through aspirin or acetaminophen alone.
If abnormal bending of the toes is noticed, it is best to seek medical advice. Not only will the hammertoe be painful over time, it can also cause back problems, hip problems and general aching as the body shifts to alleviate the painful steps. Since these small appendages carry such a large responsibility, taking care of them can keep us on our toes.