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When to Consider Hammer Toe Arthroplasty


Conditions such as hammer toe can be a source of discomfort, pain and mobility problems. Many patients who are dealing with a deformity of the toes such as hammer toe seek relief to better live with the condition. While a surgical procedure such as hammer toe arthroplasty is often an effective treatment choice, it is important to understand the full range of options and lifestyle changes that can help with the hammer toe. 

By learning more about this condition and how it can be treated, you can make a more informed decision about your care and know when to consider surgical procedures including hammer toe arthroplasty. If you would like to learn more after reading the following guide, please reach out to the caring team at USA Spine Care and Orthopedics. 

What is hammer toe?

Hammer toe is a deformity of the toes, including the big toe. Typically caused by a muscle imbalance that results in the affected toe being bent in the middle joint, it gets its name because the bending causes the toe to look like a hammer. 

One major underlying cause is wearing shoes that do not fit properly. This causes the muscles and tendons of the toes to become stuck. Over prolonged periods of time in this position, it becomes progressively difficult for the toes to stretch out, resulting in hammer toe. 

Can you live with hammer toe?

Hammer toe can often be corrected with simple measures if it is caught early. The biggest example is wearing shoes that fit and are comfortable for daily use. Many people in the early stages of hammer toe can avoid long-term deformity of the toes by simply avoiding heels and/or overly small shoes. Exercising and stretching your toes regularly can also help. 

What is hammer toe arthroplasty?

Hammer toe arthroplasty is a type of surgical procedure where the surgeon accesses the big toe, or other toe affected by this condition, to remove bone and/or connective tissue and straighten out the joint. The specific approach depends on the toe, the degree of the deformity and other factors. Tendon transfer, joint resection and fusion are examples of types of hammer toe arthroplasty. 

What treatments should you pursue before hammer toe arthroplasty?

Hammer toe arthroplasty is typically an elective procedure and shoulder therefore only be seriously considered after conservative treatments have been fully exhausted. Upon diagnosis of hammer toe or other deformity of the toes, doctors will recommend the following:

  • Changing footwear and wearing shoes that fit
  • Using orthotics or pads that help improve comfort
  • Therapeutic exercises and stretches that help improve range of motion and flexibility in the big toe or other affected toe
  • Resting your feet as needed
  • Taking over-the-counter medication as needed

If weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment for hammer toe is not effective, or dysfunction and deformity of the toes begins to increase, hammer toe arthroplasty may become recommended. You should expect to undergo a thorough evaluation to ensure that a hammer toe arthroplasty or other procedure would be effective in helping you straighten the toe. 

Patients with poor circulation, active infections and certain conditions may not be suitable candidates for hammer toe arthroplasty. 

Is hammer toe arthroplasty minimally invasive?

Hammer toe arthroplasty is usually performed on an outpatient basis thanks to the development of minimally invasive techniques. This means that you should expect to return home the night of the surgery to begin the recovery process. Anesthesia requirements will depend on the specific procedure and patients will discuss the approach to anesthesia with their surgical team. 

The recovery process for hammer toe arthroplasty also varies on a case by case basis. Patients should expect to receive thorough instructions and a timeline for recovery. Assistive devices such as specialized footwear, crutches or a cane will usually be required while the toe heals. To ensure the best possible outcome, it is important to follow these instructions and recovery steps closely and not put too much stress on the toe too soon. 

Reach out to USA Spine Care & Orthopedics to learn about hammer toe treatment

If you are exploring treatment options for hammer toe or other deformity of the toes, reach out to USA Spine Care & Orthopedics. Our highly experienced team takes a comprehensive approach to treatment that can include physical therapy, pain management interventions and surgery, including hammer toe arthroplasty. We’re committed to developing a personalized plan of care that is fitted to your lifestyle and treatment goals.

We’re passionate about helping people overcome pain and regain a healthy and active lifestyle.  

Hammer Toe Arthroplasty Quick Answers

What is arthroplasty of the big toe?

Hammer toe arthroplasty is a procedure where a surgeon removes part of the bone on one of the toes, known as the phalangeal head. This allows the toe to lie flat, which can help with conditions such as hammer toe. After the procedure, tape or wiring will hold the straightened toe in place while it permanently heals.

Is hammer toe surgery worth it?

Hammer toe arthroplasty and other procedures are elective procedures, so should always be seen as a last resort treatment option. However, for people dealing with hammer toe who are suffering from a reduced quality of life, hammer toe surgery can be effective. Minimally invasive arthroplasty has a short recovery time and offers relief and reduced mobility. 

Can you walk after hammer toe surgery?

It may take some time to walk without assistance during the recovery process for hammer toe surgery. Patients will typically be given special shoes, crutches or a walker to help with mobility. After recovery, patients should generally expect improvements in mobility, but it is important to follow all recovery and rehabilitation guidelines that the surgical team provides.  

What is the recovery time for hammer toe surgery?

The recovery time for hammer toe arthroplasty varies depending on the specific procedure, extent of the condition and the toe being treated. In a large number of cases the timetable is generally within one to four weeks. Patients should follow all instructions for returning to normal activities as rushing back into action can compromise the healing process. 

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