Hammertoes can make wearing shoes so painful that it can be difficult to walk with the condition. Non-surgical treatments may be an option for those with flexible hammertoe, a less severe form of hammertoe in which the joint can still be manually straightened. But if you suffer from rigid or inflexible hammertoe, the joint cannot be straightened at all.
Many people wonder what causes hammertoes. Genetics is a factor, as are injuries and disorders of the toes or feet, including nerve damage. Footwear is to blame for most cases of hammertoe; women get the disorder more often than men due to cramped and uncomfortable feminine shoes. If you suffer from severe, rigid hammertoes, surgery can completely restore function and allow you to wear all kinds of shoes again without pain. But the success of your recovery from hammertoe surgery will depend on the type of surgery you have, your level of activity after surgery and the type of shoes you wear during the recovery period.
The Type of Surgery You Choose
When it comes to hammertoe surgery, you have several options, although the condition of your toes and foot will determine which procedure works best for you. Your podiatrist may recommend an implant to keep your toe in a straightened position following surgery.
Surgical options for correcting hammertoe include shortening the bones in the toe or removing the toe joint in order to flatten the toe, and then inserting an implant to hold the toe straight as it heals. The ligaments in your toe may also need to be released. Following surgery, you will no longer be able to bend your toe, but it will be straight.
K-wires are the oldest type of implant used for hammertoe surgery. However, K-wires protrude from the tip of the toe, which can leave you vulnerable to infection. Recovery can be more difficult because you’ll need to stay off your feet for several weeks, until the wires are removed. There are many options for permanent hammertoe implants that eliminate the risk of infection and can make for a more comfortable recovery.
Your Level of Activity After Surgery
You should follow your doctor’s instructions, but in general, you’ll need to avoid heavy exercise for about six weeks following hammertoe surgery. Your doctor will probably want you to stay off your feet entirely for the first 48 hours to seven days after surgery.
Many people underestimate the impact that even light activity, such as preparing a meal, can have on their recovery from hammertoe surgery. You should have some meals prepared in advance so you don’t have to be on your feet in the kitchen in the days after your procedure. You will also want to avoid climbing stairs. Have a clear path to the bathroom — move any small pieces of furniture or slippery rugs out of the way. Spend as much time as possible in bed or on the couch with your foot elevated to prevent swelling. You can reduce swelling in the toe by placing ice beneath your knee or next to your inner ankle for 20 minutes, up to three times a day.
Your doctor will probably give you a special orthopedic boot or shoe to wear following your surgery. Walking in this boot can be harder than it looks; practice using the boot prior to surgery so you know what to expect. If you find walking in the boot is too difficult, ask your podiatrist about physical therapy options that can help you build up some strength before your surgery.
Though you will probably be able to go back to using regular shoes after a week or two, you should refrain from wearing any high heels or tight, cramped shoes for at least six weeks following your surgery. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes with roomy toe boxes. Absorbent cotton socks can protect your surgical incision from moisture. Make sure to clean it daily with soap and water. When you are at home and don’t need to wear shoes, allow your surgical incision to remain exposed to the air unless your doctor says otherwise.
If you suffer from painful rigid hammertoe, surgery can help you walk comfortably again. When you understand the factors that can derail your successful recovery from hammertoe surgery, you’ll be back on your feet in no time.