A hammer toe is a toe that stays in a curled or flexed position. It can be caused by a muscle imbalance, arthritis, or shoes that do not fit well.
Hammer toe can occur in more than one toe.
Several kinds of surgery can repair hammer toe. Your bone or foot doctor will recommend the kind that will work best for you. Some of the surgeries include:
- Remove parts of the toe bones.
- Cut or transplant the tendons of the toes (tendons connect bone to muscle).
- Fuse the joint together to make the toe straight and no longer able to bend.
After surgery, you may have surgical pins or a wire (Kirschner, or K-wire) to hold the toe bones in place while your toe heals.
Why the Procedure is Performed
When hammer toe is starting to develop, you may still be able to straighten your toe. Over time, your toe may get stuck in a bent position and you can no longer straighten it. When this happens, painful, hard corns (thick, callused skin) can build up on the top and bottom of your toe and rub against your shoe.
Hammer toe surgery is not done just to make your toe look better. Consider surgery if your hammer toe is stuck in a flexed position and is causing:
- Problems finding shoes that fit
- Skin infections
Surgery may not be advised if:
- Treatment with paddings and strapping works
- You can still straighten your toe
- Changing to different shoe types can alleviate symptoms
Risks of hammer toe surgery are:
- Poor alignment of the toe
- Allergic reactions to medicines you receive before or during surgery
- Infection in the bones of the toe
- Injury to nerves that could cause numbness in your toe
- Scar from surgery that hurts when it is touched
- Stiffness in the toe or a toe that is too straight
Before the Procedure
Always tell your doctor or nurse what medicines you are taking, even medicines, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription.
- You may be asked to stop taking drugs that make it harder for your blood to clot. These include aspirin, ibuprofen, (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve), and other drugs.
- Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of your surgery.
- If you smoke, try to stop. Ask your doctor or nurse for help. Smoking can slow healing.
- Always let your doctor know about any cold, flu, fever, or other illness you may have before your surgery.
- You may be asked not to drink or eat anything for 6 - 12 hours before surgery.
If you have diabetes, heart disease, or other medical conditions, your surgeon will ask you to see the doctor who treats you for these conditions.
After the Procedure
Most people go home the same day they have hammer toe surgery. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how to take care of yourself at home after surgery.
Flexion contracture of the toe
Murphy A. Lesser toe abnormalities. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 83.
Update Date 5/15/2014
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.