Hammertoe is a condition in which the tendons and ligaments in your toe shorten, causing the joint in that toe to take on a permanently bent shape. The unfortunate thing about hammertoe is that once it develops, there's really no way, other than surgery, to lengthen those connective tissues and straighten out the toe again. As such, as someone with hammertoe, it's important to know the basics of how to prepare for and ready yourself for hammertoe surgery.
When is surgery necessary?
Many people, when they ask this question, want a response like "you'll need surgery a year after diagnosis!" But the truth is, every case of hammertoe progresses differently. You may need surgery after a year, or you may need it after five years. It's better to assess symptoms, rather than time, to determine when surgery is needed.
You are ready to start seriously planning your hammertoe surgery when:
- Your toe is painful more days than it's not.
- Your toe is rubbing on even your widest shoes, making it hard to wear shoes.
- Your toe joint is entirely rigid and can't bend at all.
- Your toe is developing corns, calluses, infected cuts, and other problems as a secondary side effect of the hammertoe.
Who performs the surgery?
When you decide you're ready for hammertoe surgery, you will want to look for a podiatric surgeon. This is basically a podiatrist — a foot doctor — who specializes in foot surgery. Not all podiatrists do surgery, so if you have been going to a podiatrist up until this point, they may need to refer you on to someone else when surgery becomes necessary.
Where is the surgery done?
Usually, hammertoe surgery is done on an outpatient basis since you don't need general anesthesia for the procedure. So unless you have some underlying health condition that makes the surgery more dangerous for you, you'll probably just schedule the procedure at an ambulatory surgery center.
How much time must you allow for recovery?
This is a much less invasive surgery than many other foot surgeries, like bunion surgery and plantar fasciitis surgery. The surgeon will basically make a small incision in your toe and sever a tendon or two. Most people need to stay off their feet for about a week after surgery, and you should be back to normal within a month or 6 weeks. Unless you have a really active job, taking a week off should be adequate.
As someone with hammertoe, it's important to know that surgery is on the horizon. The only real question will be when you need it and knowing who and where to schedule it will allow you to make a faster decision when the time is right.