PROBLEMS WITH YOUR LITTLE TOES
Your little toes help balance your body when you move. As your foot flattens, the little toes bend to grip the ground. Then they straighten, acting like levers to help your foot so you can walk, run, or dance. You may develop a problem known as a hammer toe. Hammer toes are little toes that buckle or curl under. Over time, these toes may hurt and make movement more difficult. But you don't have to live with pain. With Dr. Henry's help, even severe hammer toes can usually be treated so you can move more easily.
What are Hammer Toes?
In general, the term "hammer toe" describes a buckling of any of the toe joints. Joints at the end or middle of the toe, as well as the joint near the ball of the foot, may be affected. Toe joints usually curl because of a muscle imbalance or tight tendons. Hammer toes vary in severity and in the number of joints and toes involved.
Types of Hammer Toes
Hammer toes may be flexible or rigid, depending on the joint's ability to move. A flexible joint may become more rigid as you age.
A Flexible Joint
You can straighten a flexible hammer toe with your fingers. Although they look painful, flexible hammer toes may not hurt.
A Rigid Joint
A rigid hammer toe cannot be moved, even with the fingers. Rigid joints may cause pain and distort foot movement. This may put extra stress on the ball of the foot, causing a callus (a corn on the bottom of the foot).
Dr. Henry will examine all your toes, testing whether or not buckled joints can be moved. Your feet will also be checked for any skin changes. Corns (a buildup of dead skin cells) often form between curled toes or on top of buckled joints where shoes rub. If irritated, corns may turn into open wounds and become infected.
X-rays may be taken of a curled toe to show the amount of deformity. An x-ray may also show whether or not the joint is affected by arthritis.
TREATING HAMMER TOES
If your symptoms are mild, changing shoes may be all the treatment you need. If your symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed. The type of procedure often depends on whether your toe joints are flexible or rigid.
To release a buckled joint, the tight tendon
(often the bottom one) is cut and repositioned.
A piece of bone may be removed to help straighten a rigid toe. Part of the contracted joint is cut away. The "gap" fills in fibrous tissue. The toe heals in a straightened position.
All hammer-toe surgeries are out-patient procedures. In fact, you will be able to bear weight on your foot by the time you go home. For best results, however, you may need to wear a surgical shoe for a few weeks.
The First Few Weeks
Your foot will be bandaged after surgery, and you may need to wear a surgical shoe to support the foot during healing. Dr. Henry may recommend a special dressing to limit swelling. Elevation and ice can also help. For best results, raise your foot above heart level and apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes. Protect your skin by placing a towel between the ice pack and your skin.
Help make surgery a success by wearing shoes that fit your feet. Shoes should be long enough and wide enough to keep all your toes comfortable.