Can You Cure a Hammer Toe Without Surgery?
Surgery is usually the last resort for many foot conditions and a hammer toe is no exception. It can be costly (if you go private), stressful and success is never guaranteed.
Ideally, you would want to seek other treatments before having an operation. In this article, we’ll aim to answer the common question – can a hammer be cured without surgery?
And also, what other treatments are available for a hammer toe.
What is a Hammer Toe?
A hammer toe is one of the most common toe deformities and it is characterized by abnormal position of proximal toe joint (middle joint of the toe) which is flexed. Any toe can be affected but in most cases it occurs in the second toe.
Normally, toe joints are extended and point forward. However, in the case of hammer toes, the toe will point downward.
Hammer toes also frequently cause deformities of surrounding toe joints. The most common symptoms include discomfort caused by prolonged pressure when wearing footwear and formation of thickened skin known as corns and calluses.
Some patients will also complain of aesthetics, difficulty walking or inability to move affected toes.
It’s important to know that hammer toe deformity can be prevented and in case of milder symptoms, it can be cured without surgery.
Hammer toe can occur in early childhood but in most cases, it occurs later in life and is usually caused by prolonged wearing of uncomfortable and tight footwear, toe injury, increased tightness of toe tendons and ligaments, foot arthritis, high foot arch, spinal cord injuries and nerve injuries.
Can a Hammer Toe Be Naturally Cured?
A hammer toe is a disorder which is characterized by abnormally positioned bones in the joint so unfortunately, there is no natural cure for hammer toes.
The best method to avoid severe hammer toe deformation is to adopt prevention methods and start treatment in the early stages.
In the case of a flexible hammer toe (when it is possible to move the toe) there are different treatment options besides surgery which are explained further below.
First, we’ll go through what hammer toe surgery involves should you decide to go down this route.
Types of Hammer Toe Surgery
One treatment option for severe cases of hammer toe is surgery. There are two main surgical techniques for hammer toe treatment.
In case of arthroplasty, the surgeon will cut and remove part of your bones inside the joint, cut tight tendons or try to lengthen them, and then fix the toe in extension using a steel or titanium wire that will stick out from your toe for 4-6 weeks.
Another type of surgery is arthrodesis. This involves cutting and removing part of the bones inside your joint, and fixing them with a wire, creating a stiff toe. You will not be able to move that joint anymore.
Soft tissue procedures such as tendon lengthening and transfer can be done if there is a milder case of hammer toe.
Risks and Complications
Hammer toe surgery has many possible postoperative complications.
- Residual stiffness
- Loss of movement in toe
- Reocurrence of deformity
- Unstable or floppy toe
- Wire breakage, pin tract infection, migration of wire, pseudoarhtosis
- Vascular compromise
- Nerve injury
To learn more about these complications in-depth, read our article on hammer toe surgery.
How to Prevent a Hammer Toe from Developing
Hammer toe is a preventable disorder and it’s important to start with preventive measures before it progresses to a rigid hammer toe.
The most important prevention method is wearing well fitted shoes. You should avoid high heels because your feet will be placed in unnatural position where body mass is transferred mostly to the distal part of feet causing significant pressure on the toes.
Also, it’s important that toes have enough space in shoes. For small or narrow shoes, your toes won't have enough space and they will bend, causing deformity.
If you decide to wear high heels, then you can use padding in order to reduce the pressure on prominent spots on toes.
A pumice stone can be used to reduce the size of a corn or callus located on toes. It’s beneficial to use it after a bath because the corns and calluses are softer and a lot easier to treat.
How to Treat an Existing Hammer Toe
There are several treatment options besides surgery for a hammer toe. Conservative treatment can be used in the case of a flexible hammer toe.
If you have hammer toe which is caused by poorly fitted shoes, then the best solution is to change shoes and get a well fitted one. Make sure that your shoes are appropriate in size, have a wide toe box and have good arch support.
You can use hammer toe correctors in order to reduce symptoms caused by hammer toes. They will provide support to your feet and correct the position of your toes inside the shoes.
If required, a podiatrist can help you create custom made orthotics which is tailor made for your feet only. This may help to reduce pain in the toes and feet.
You can try hammer toe taping which is designed to keep the toe in an optimal position. This can be achieved also with splints, slings and toe caps.
Corn and Callus Removal
If corns and calluses are causing pain and discomfort, there are a number of different over-the-counter medications that can help. Other options are to visit a podiatrist and get them shaved off or undergo surgical removal of them.
If you develop blisters on pressure spots, you should not try to remove and pop them. It can cause an infection which can be very dangerous. Instead, you can use cushions in order to remove the pressure off blisters and give them a chance to heal.
Certain exercises will help with hammer toe deformity. They will strengthen the muscles which control the toes and help them maintain the correct positioning. Hammer toe exercises will also stretch the toes and keep them flexible.
You can try to pick up marbles from the floor; try to crumple a towel while it’s on the ground; you can also do manual stretching and hand massages of the affected toe.
For more information on treating hammer toes, read our article on methods to relieve hammer toe pain.