Nonsurgical Treatment for Hammertoe

If hammertoe is diagnosed while the muscles in the affected toe are still flexible enough to move—meaning a toe is bent at the middle joint but can still be straightened—doctors at NYU Langone recommend nonsurgical remedies to ease pain and swelling in the toe and joint. These treatments can help straighten a bent toe and may redistribute the body’s weight more evenly across the bones and joints of the foot, taking stress off of the toes and allowing your toe to heal.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

Our doctors often recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce swelling and relieve pain in the toes. These medications are taken by mouth, and many are available over the counter. If they don’t ease pain, your doctor may recommend a prescription pain relief medication.

Your doctor recommends the right dose for you and determines how long you should take the medication. NSAIDs may cause side effects, including nausea and headache. A doctor should monitor prolonged use.

Over-the-Counter Products

Most drugstores offer a variety of products that straighten a bent toe and cushion painful parts of the foot. Our podiatrists can recommend the appropriate product for you based on the severity of the hammertoe and whether you have corns, which are hard lumps that may form on or between toes, or calluses, which are areas of thickened skin.

Medical tape and splints are used to stabilize the hammertoe and bind it to the toe next to it, keeping both toes in a straightened position. This helps to eliminate friction between the affected toe and the inside of the shoe.

Pads can be worn inside the shoes and act as a buffer between a corn or callus and the shoe. They may relieve pressure and pain caused by shoes rubbing against a corn or callus and make walking easier.

Orthotic Inserts

Orthotic shoe inserts, which are firm but soft, redistribute your body weight more evenly across the bones and joints of the foot. This helps to remove excess stress from the toes, providing pain relief.

Doctors often recommend orthotic inserts if you have bunions—bony bumps at the base of the big toe—as well as hammertoe. Orthotic inserts can also help to relieve pain from a neuroma, which is nerve irritation that may occur in the foot and toes as a result of changes in the bone structure of the foot. Orthotic inserts shift pressure away from painful and swollen parts of the foot, easing pain.

Your podiatrist may recommend an over-the-counter brand or create a custom orthotic insert that matches the shape and size of your foot. Custom orthotic shoe inserts typically take two weeks to make. When they are ready, our podiatrists ensure they fit you correctly.

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