Can I Straighten a Hammertoe Without Surgery?

Jun 7, 2020

It’s fair to say that most people, when given a choice between a non-surgical option or a surgical option, tend to prefer the former—as long as both can lead to a successful result.

We’re with you 100% on that. Although Dr. Bobrowski is a board-certified foot surgeon with more than 20 years of surgical experience, he still strongly supports the use of conservative treatments as the first choice whenever possible.

That includes cases of hammertoes, but with a very important caveat.

You see, the answer to the question asked by the title of this blog is, unfortunately, a very strong no. Hammertoes cannot be straightened without surgery. Once the toe has started to bend, conservative treatments alone will not reverse it, but can only slow its progression. We know that’s not the news you wanted to hear, but it’s the truth.

However, this does not mean surgery is necessarily your only effective treatment option.

Confused? It all comes down to the fact that treating a hammertoe doesn’t necessarily require “straightening” it in all cases.

Can I Straighten a Hammertoe Without Surgery?

“Straightening” the Hammertoe Isn’t Necessarily the Primary Treatment Goal

Reconstructive surgery often helps restore feet and toes that have become misshapen to a more aesthetically “normal” appearance. But it’s important to understand that surgery is never recommended for purely cosmetic purposes.

What we’re really interested in, more than anything else, is helping you to restore an active, pain-free lifestyle. In many circumstances, achieving this goal is possible without actually straightening the toe or putting you under the knife.

Effective non-surgical treatment of hammertoes is usually possible as long as the bent, raised joint in your toe remains flexible. If you use your fingers to lay your toe flat in a normal position, there’s a great chance that you still have time to avoid surgery.

In this case, we will usually recommend that you wear either a crest pad or hammertoe regulator, which we will provide for you. Both of these devices have adjustable straps that brace the toe, keep it from rubbing against your shoe and other toes, and therefore reduces or eliminates painful corns, blisters, and ulcerations that tend to form at these friction spots.

Depending on your particular situation we may have other treatment recommendations that might keep your hammertoe from becoming worse, or at least slow down its progression. Examples include wearing roomier shoes, orthotics, and toe exercises.

Sometimes Surgery Really Is Necessary

If you want to be able to treat your hammertoe conservatively, you really need to seek out our help as early as possible.

As a hammertoe progresses, the bent joint begins to lose flexibility and becomes much more rigidly locked into place. You won’t even be able to lay your toe flat with your fingers anymore, and crest pads and hammertoe regulators won’t do you any good. At this point, surgery is probably your only choice to relieve your pain and restore your quality of life.

There is good news, however. As far as surgeries are concerned, hammertoe procedures have an excellent track record of success.

There are actually several different possible procedures that can be selected based on your condition, including tendon transfers, joint resection, or joint fusion. We’ll discuss these options with you, including their pros and cons, and make our recommendation.

Regardless of the specific procedure chosen, most surgeries can be performed outpatient under IV sedation. You won’t need to go to the hospital or stay overnight, and after a short recovery period you can go back home. Most people need about six weeks to make a complete recovery, although this can vary from person to person.

The Sooner You See Us, the Better

While hammertoe surgery isn’t something you should be afraid of, we’d always prefer to help you non-surgically if we can. Although this means your toe will not be permanently straightened—only surgery can do that—it is the least invasive path toward a full return to activity.

The earlier you come to see us, when you first notice your toe starting to bend, the greater the probability that you will be able to manage your hammertoe conservatively without it affecting your day-to-day life.

To schedule an appointment, call our office in New Bern at (252) 638-4700. You can also request an appointment by completing the contact form on this page.