If you must undergo hammer toe surgery, you can expect to need several weeks to recover, during which time you will experience pain and swelling in the toes. You likely will need to stay off the affected foot for a few weeks and might need to use crutches to get around. You might not be able to wear a shoe on the affected foot for several weeks after the surgery, and when you do begin to wear a shoe on it again, the shoe should be comfortable and supportive.
Hammer toe surgery requires the patient to undergo a procedure that attempts to straighten the toes. After surgery, the correction also requires the patient to adapt to wearing footwear that doesn’t cause the toes to contort or reverse the results of the procedure. Depending on the individual’s case of hammer toe, there are common methods that are used to correct the deformity, including tendon, joint fusion and phalangeal head resection surgeries. A successful procedure results in a toe that is no longer, or at least minimally, stiff, rigid or arched.
This condition is generally attributed to wearing ill-fitting shoes over an extended period of time. When shoes that are too tight continually cramp the feet, the middle joints on the smaller toes can become deformed and arched, giving them a claw-like appearance. Thick and hardened skin caused by calluses, bunions and corns can also add to this look. Hammer toes also can be caused by conditions that affect the joints, such as osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
If a podiatrist believes surgery is in order, he or she will evaluate the deformity in the joint and determine which surgery is best for the patient, all of which can be performed under both general and local anesthetics. One approach to hammer toe surgery is to operate on the tendons. In this procedure, the surgeon will take a tendon from under the toe and move it to the top of the toe, to use it to pull down on and straighten the arch.
A second type of surgery is called joint fusion, or arthrodesis. In this procedure, a part of the arched joint is removed from the toe, and a wire is put in its place. During recovery, the wire is taken out of the toe so that the joints can grow back together. A third typical procedure is phalangeal head resection, or arthroplasty, in which part of the bone from the arched toe is removed and the toe is physically straightened. The tendons are then rearranged to secure the position of the toe.
Regardless of which procedure is performed, hammer toe surgery more than likely will result in swelling and pain in the toes afterward. The severity and length of time that swelling and pain lasts varies by patient. Though the surgeon or podiatrist will work to make sure that the procedure is effective, there is the chance that hammer toes will appear again after surgery. For example, bones removed from the toe can grow back, toes can remain stiff, or pain can persist.
To decrease the possibility of failed surgery, patients are generally instructed to stay off the operated foot for a few weeks. They also are advised to use crutches for support. Patients usually can return to wearing shoes in about two to six weeks, but shoes should be supportive, spacious and have stiff soles.
It is generally suggested that hammer toe sufferers attempt to ease the condition while the toes are still malleable and able to flex. The reason is that, over time, hammer toes can become stiff and nearly immobile, and rigid toe joints can lead to other complications of the foot. A podiatrist will be able to determine whether you are a good candidate to have hammer toe surgery.