Although we always stress the importance of preventative care and will exhaust all conservative options first, unfortunately there may come a time when surgery is your only option to finally relieve pain from a progressive deformity such as hammertoes, especially when they have become rigid and inflexible.
Still, because hammertoe surgery is considered “elective” (it may significantly improve your quality of life, but is not a medical emergency), many people are hesitant to go under the knife. We hope that by explaining the process to you, we can demystify hammertoe surgery and help you make an informed choice.
There is no one “hammertoe surgery,” although most can be performed outpatient using only local anesthetic. Procedures are selected based on your goals, needs, and the severity of your condition.
Joint resection is one common option; it involves shortening the bone so that it can be straightened completely. More serious cases may be treated with a bone fusion, where the heads of both toe bones at the curl are removed, repositioned, and held together with metal hardware (which may or may not be removed later). On the flipside, more minor cases where the joint still has some flexibility may be treated simply by lengthening or releasing tight tendons and allowing the muscles of the toe to relax.
Although there’s no way to know what types of procedures you’ll need until you are professionally evaluated, rest assured that our surgeons will carefully review your case and needs and make the best possible choice.
Most people are able to leave the office the same day. We’ll bandage the toe, set you up with any protective or walking aids you might need (such as a walking boot or crutches), and send you on your way.
The first few days are usually the worst in terms of pain, stiffness, and swelling. Although it’s possible we’ll clear you for some very light walking and weight bearing activity, you should try to stay off your feet and rest as much as possible. Take your prescribed pain meds on schedule (taking one before pain hits to prevent it is better than the alternative) and elevate your foot above chest level as much as possible. Ice can be helpful, too—not more than 15-20 minutes per hour, though.
Over the next few weeks, it’ll be very important to follow all of your surgeon’s instructions carefully to ensure maximum healing and reduce the probability of recurrence—things like keeping your surgical site clean and dry, waiting until you get the go-ahead for driving or moderate activity, following a physical therapy routine, etc. Stitches usually come out 2-3 weeks after the operation, with a “full recovery” (besides for some occasionally soreness and pain) taking about 6 weeks on average. However, it could be as short as a couple of weeks or as long as 3 months, depending on the specific case.
Is Hammertoe Surgery Right for You?
That’s a discussion you’ll have to have with your doctor. Although hammertoe surgery is a highly successful procedure on average, there are still risks (as there are with any surgery) and we will always encourage you to pursue non-surgical therapies first. Only when those prove unsuccessful do we consider surgery. You may also have complicating conditions that can increase the risks or limit the effectiveness of surgery, such as poor circulation, infections, serious illnesses, or smoking.
In most cases, you will have to take some time off from work, and you may need some additional help around the house with tasks such as driving, cooking, or shopping. It’s good to go in with a plan so that you know you’ll get the support you need as you recover.
Of course, if you’re in serious pain and it’s limiting your ability to accomplish tasks or enjoy life, such minor inconveniences may seem trivial compared to the long-term relief surgery can provide. A few weeks of rest and recuperation is a very small price to pay for getting your life back.
If you’re a North or South Carolinian in or around Charlotte and you’re wondering if hammertoe surgery is right for you, give the experts at Carolina Podiatry Group a call today. Our podiatrists will help you chart a treatment plan that makes sense for you and your life, whether or not it includes surgery. Reach us at 888-569-9559 for an appointment in Lancaster, Fort Mill, or Chester, SC.