Management of Toe Deformities
An abnormally shaped toe can rub against adjacent toes or be irritated by your footwear. Symptoms include soreness between the toes, over the prominent joint or at the tip of the toe. Hard skin or corns may form and there may be associated damage to the toenail.
This is a clinical diagnosis made by the examining the foot, X-rays are not normally required.
The exact cause may be unknown
- Poorly fitting or unsupportive shoes
- High or low arched foot type
- Previous injury such as a fracture
- Increased length of toe in comparison to adjacent toes
- Weakness of the small muscles within the foot
- Medical conditions such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
- Genetics – it may run in families
- Wider/deeper fitting footwear
- Routine treatment – debridement of skin lesions as required
- Padding, splints or toe props to protect from Irritation
- Insoles when the clawing of the toes is thought to be due to instability
This involves realigning the toe to a better position. Depending on the presentation this can be achieved by a tendon transfer, removing a section of the bone (arthroplasty) or fusing the toe joint in a straight position (arthrodesis).
A tendon transfer involves taking a tendon from the bottom of the toe and re-routing it to the top of your toe. The re-routed tendon then functions as a corrective force as opposed to a deforming force which stops the tendon from pulling the toe into a bent position. The tendon is sutured back onto the proximal phalanx (base of the toe) in its new position using a bone anchor suture. The tendon used is the Flexor Digitorum Longus (FDL), which is one of two tendons with the primary role of flexing the toe towards the ground.
An arthroplasty is where part of the joint is removed. There are normally two joints within the toe. An incision is made over the top of the joint, the bone is cut, soft tissues repaired and closed with non-dissolvable sutures. The alignment may or may not be maintained with a percutaneous K wire (visible at the end of the toe) which remains in place for 4-6 weeks. As the bones are not ‘joined together’ some mobility may remain within the toe.
deformed toes pre-operatively.
Intra-operative correction of toe deformities via arthroplasties without K-wire maintenance
One or two K-wires may be used to hold the small bones in a straight position while the bones fuse together. The wires maybe internal and cut close to the bone remaining in place indefinitely or placed percutaneously and removed after six weeks.
The choice between an arthrodesis or an arthroplasty is largely determined by; whether the underlying cause has been resolved (a bunion pressing on the second toe) and which digit or joint is affected. It is rare to fuse the fourth or fifth toes or deformities affecting the end joints of the lesser toes.
Most patients are discharged home using a Darco post-operative shoe
Specific complications following digital surgery:
- Insufficient correction obtained following the surgery or recurrence of deformity
- Prolonged swelling of the toe
- The toe may be weak or not touch the ground
- The pin may become loose or require early removal (if applicable)
- Excessive shortening of the digit
- Flail or floppy toe
- Early k-wire breakage, may require revision surgery to remove the remaining wire and/or realign the digit
Additional risks associated with an arthrodesis:
- The two bones may not fuse (non-union). This is not always problematic as the toe may remain straight. However, if accompanied by pain or recurrence of deformity, revision surgery may be required.
Before you leave the hospital, you will be given a post-operative shoe, in most cases you do not need crutches. The nurses will dispense post-operative pain medication. You should arrange to go home via car or taxi with an escort. You will need to have someone with you for the first 24 hours in case you feel unwell.
You must rest with the leg elevated for the first 48 hours (essential walking only). It is important that you do not interfere with the dressings and keep them dry. You can buy a purpose made waterproof cover to keep the leg dry, (Limbo M100 above the knee) at the hospital.
Professor Tagoe will see you for a dressing change 3-4 days post-surgery, at which point most patients can then return to walking to tolerance around the house.
After 10 days the dressings and stitches will be removed, and you are advised to return to a trainer. At this stage you can wash your foot and gradually increase your activities. Once out of the post-operative shoe you can drive your car as and when you feel safe. If there is a wire through the toe, this normally removed at six weeks. Physiotherapy is not normally required.
Full recovery can take up to six months
This type of surgery aims to straighten the toe, allowing you to wear a greater range of footwear without discomfort.
Most patients have an uneventful recovery. Outlined below are the common problems or those rare complications with serious outcomes. In cases where we don’t have accurate audit, we have used published results from the podiatric literature. These are accompanied by an asterisk *
- Prolonged swelling taking more than 6 months to resolve occurs 1 in every 500 operations*
- Haematoma – a painful accumulation of blood within the operation site.
- Thick and or sensitive scar
- Adverse reaction to the post-operative pain killers. 1 in every 50 patients report that the codeine preparations can make them feel sick*
- Infection of soft tissue. The incidence is 1 in every 83 operations*
- Delayed healing of soft tissue
- Circulatory impairment with tissue loss occurred in 3 out of 9000 patients over a 10-year period
- Deep vein thrombosis which can result in a clot in the lung is potentially a life-threatening condition. Deep vein thrombosis requiring treatment, within the published literature, is 0.3% *
- Chronic pain syndrome: this is where the nervous system dealing with pain over reacts in a prolonged manner often to a minor incident. This normally requires management by specialists in this condition and does not always resolve. This is a rare complication with no audit data available
The risk of having a complication can be minimised when the patient and all those concerned with the operation and aftercare work together. This starts with the pre- operative screening and continues through to rehabilitation.
Pre-operative screening of your health allows us to determine whether you are fit for surgery. Further investigations and the advice of other surgical and medical specialities will be sought as required. We will ensure that the operation is performed effectively and with the minimum of trauma.
You can improve the healing process and reduce the risks of complications by:
- Adhering to the post-operative instructions which include resting and elevating the operated leg.
- Keeping the wound clean and dry until advised otherwise is essential; please ask the team if you are not sure what to do.
- Having a healthy diet is important; this provides the nutrition required for healing.
- Smoking is associated with 20% increased risk of delayed or non-union of bones.
- Alcohol can interact with the drugs that we will prescribe and in excess can impair wound healing.
- Post-operative mobilisation when advised helps to improve the surgical outcome
Podiatric surgeons are not medical doctors.
Podiatric Surgical Training
3 year: Degree in Podiatry (BSc)
2 year: Masters in the theory of podiatric surgery (MSc)
2 year: Surgical training programme
(Podiatric Surgical Trainee)
Final fellowship examinations
3 year: Specialist training (Podiatric Registrar)
Accreditation with the Faculty of Podiatric Surgery
Consultant Podiatric Surgeon