Although hammertoes are readily apparent, to arrive at a diagnosis the Podiatrist will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. During the physical examination, the podiatrist may attempt to reproduce your symptoms by manipulating your foot and will study the contractures of the toes. In addition, the Podiatrist may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformities and assess any changes that may have occurred.
Hammertoes are progressive – they don’t go away by themselves and usually they will get worse over time. However, not all cases are alike – some hammertoes progress more rapidly than others. Once your doctor of podiatric medicine has evaluated your hammertoes, a treatment plan can be developed that is suited to your needs.
There is a variety of treatment options for hammertoe. The treatment your Podiatrist selects will depend upon the severity of your hammertoe and other factors.
A number of non-surgical measures can be undertaken:
- Padding corns and calluses. Your podiatrist can provide or prescribe pads designed to shield corns from irritation. If you want to try over-the-counter pads, avoid the medicated types. Medicated pads are generally not recommended because they may contain a small amount of acid that can be harmful. Consult your podiatrist about this option.
- Changes in shoewear. Avoid shoes with pointed toes, shoes that are too short, or shoes with high heels – conditions that can force your toe against the front of the shoe. Instead, choose comfortable shoes with a deep, roomy toe box and heels no higher than two inches.
- Orthotic devices. A custom orthotic device placed in your shoe may help control the muscle/tendon imbalance.
- Injection therapy. Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used to ease pain and inflammation caused by hammertoe.
- Medications. Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Splinting/strapping. Splints or small straps may be applied by the doctor of podiatric medicine to realign the bent toe.
When Is Surgery Needed?
In some cases, usually when the hammertoe has become more rigid and painful, or when an open sore has developed, surgery is needed.
Often patients with hammertoe have bunions or other foot deformities corrected at the same time. In selecting the procedure or combination of procedures for your particular case, the Podiatrist will take into consideration the extent of your deformity, the number of toes involved, your age, your activity level, and other factors. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.