Hammer Toe Treatment Gets People on their Feet Faster

Updated June 06, 2021

High-heeled shoes may make some people feel stylish, but those same shoes can cause a foot deformity called hammer toe. Doctors at Duke correct hammer toe with an implant that has several benefits over traditional treatment options.

High heels and pointed-toe shoes force the toes down into the shoe or into a point. When toes don’t have enough room to lie flat, a hammer toe can develop, usually with a bunion. Anyone with a family history of hammer toe is also more likely to develop the condition.

Treatment for Hammer Toe

Duke orthopaedic surgeons say there are several treatment options, starting with physical therapy for mild cases.

You can stretch the muscles and tendons to relieve the cramping and to straighten your toes. If your toe is also rubbing up against the underside of your shoe, you can also use small pads, found in most drugstores, to cover and protect the toe. As far as conservative treatments options, that’s it.

When that doesn’t work, surgeons traditionally remove some bone and insert a pin into the toe. The pin keeps the previously bent toe immobilized for four to six weeks while its bones fuse.

Though the surgery is effective, the pin remains sticking out of the person’s toe. If they aren't careful when they begin walking, the pin can get caught on things or hit the ground.

A newer technique involves inserting the SmartToe implant into the toe instead of a pin. The bones fuse around the implant, which is permanent. Think of the device as something similar to a pin but completely inside your bone.

One of the big benefits of implants is that you don’t have something sticking out of your toe. While the length of recovery is the same as traditional surgery, the SmartToe gets people get back on their feet and walking faster than with the traditional pin, sometimes within days.

If your foot and ankle hurt, it can affect your overall well-being. It's really is worth taking care of your feet to prevent any long-term problems, and you should seek medical attention if you have toe pain with or without shoes. Or, if shoes you used to find comfortable are no longer comfortable, see a foot expert or an orthopaedic surgeon who can discuss your options with you.