Hammer Toe Treatments in Asheville

Have you noticed that one of your middle toes is always bent, even when at rest? This could be a condition called “hammer toe,” and you need to see an experienced foot and ankle doctor. Left untreated, a hammer toe can become permanently “frozen” in that position, potentially altering the way you walk and leading to secondary joint injuries. Once this occurs, surgery is typically the only effective solution to alleviate pain and restore normal toe function and appearance.

What does a hammer toe look like?

A hammer toe is a deformity in which the muscles and tendons of certain toes (typically the second, third, or fourth tow) tighten, causing the toe to bend involuntarily at the middle joint. It’s called a “hammer toe” because of the hammer-like shape: the middle joint sticks up, and the rest of the toe points toward the floor.

While a hammer toe may be flexible at first, and able to stretch out when you walk, if left untreated, the muscles can permanently shorten, so you can no longer extend the toe. This can lead to a number of secondary problems, including corns and calluses, difficulty finding shoes that fit, and even difficulty walking.

Hammer toe vs. mallet toe

The difference between a hammer toe and a mallet toe lies in which joints are affected. With hammer toe, the tendons and muscles cause a deformity at the middle toe joint (PIP joint), whereas a mallet toe will bend at the joint closest to the end of the toe. Treatment protocols are similar for both hammer toe and mallet toe.

What causes a hammer toe?

The number one cause of hammer toe is wearing shoes that are too small for your feet or that places excess pressure on your toes, causing them to crunch up (i.e., high heels). When the toes are chronically restricted, eventually the muscles and tendons shorten and stiffen due to lack of movement.

Hammer toes can also result from muscular imbalances in the foot, or from trauma, such as a toe fracture that does not heal optimally.

How can I treat a hammer toe?

If you have pain or problems moving your toe, and suspect you have a hammer toe, the first step is to contact an experienced foot and ankle specialist.

At Carolina Hand & Sports Medicine, Asheville orthopedic surgeon Dr. Matthew B. Massey, is highly experienced in both surgical and non-surgical treatments for hammer toe and has helped many men and women overcome their issues to walk without pain.

During a consultation and evaluation, Dr. Massey will evaluate the extent of the deformity and suggest an appropriate treatment plan. In addition to a physical exam, he may order X-rays or other tests to check for associated injuries, degenerative joint problems, or nerve damage.

Non-surgical hammer toe treatments

If you still have some flexibility in your hammer toe, non-surgical treatment options such as the following may be effective:

  • Changing your footwear. In mild or early cases of hammer toe, switching to sandals or other wider, flat and supportive shoes with a roomier toebox may be enough to relieve discomfort and allow your toe to regain better flexibility.
  • Taping or splinting. Along with wearing appropriate shoes, Dr. Massey may tape or splint the joint to straighten the hammer toe into a more normal position. This can also help stretch the tendons and ligaments.
  • Physical therapy. If your hammer toe is related to a muscle imbalance, Dr. Massey may recommend exercises to help improve flexibility and strengthen the surrounding muscles.

Non-surgical treatments can dramatically improve your comfort, but they will probably not completely “fix” a hammer toe—unless you have the toe surgically corrected, you likely will always have some noticeable bend in the joint.

Surgery for hammer toes

If you have not responded well to conservative measures, or if your hammer toe lacks sufficient flexibility, surgery may be the best option. Typically, hammer toe surgery can be performed an outpatient procedure using local anesthesia.

During surgery, Dr. Massey will release the over-tightened tendons to allow the toe to relax. Depending on your needs, he may also remove a small piece of bone to optimally correct the problem.

Recovery after hammer toe surgery typically involves several weeks non-weight bearing, plus physical therapy to assist in healing and help address any muscular imbalances.

Bothered by a hammer toe? We can help.

If you are dealing with pain and stiffness in your toes or any other joint in your body, you can trust our experienced orthopedic team at Carolina Hand & Sports Medicine to offer exceptional care to help you address the source of the issue and find an effective treatment to help you get back to your active lifestyle. Call 828-253-7521 or contact us online for an appointment.