ugg sheepskin up toes was cured in just 15 minutes
Around eight years ago, I noticed that the three smallest toes on my left foot were starting to curl up like a claw and move inwards, so they were pushing on the bigger toes and the little ones on the right foot were beginning to do the same.
I mentioned it to my rheumatologist, who I see regularly for my arthritis.
He explained that I was starting to develop hammer toes, so called because the toe bends at the end like it’s about to hammer something into the ground.
He explained that hammer toes are very common as we get older, and my rheumatoid arthritis made it worse. He said I might eventually need surgery to correct them, but as it wasn’t painful I wanted to put it off for as long as I could.
But over the next couple of years, the toes got worse they curved into each other, so they squashed towards my big toe. And they started to bend downwards like a claw, so the fourth toe actually pushed under the third toe.
Wearing shoes hurt because the shoe rubbed on the top of the curved toes. I tried everything wearing sandals and flip flops in summer, and shoes a half size too big, so they wouldn’t rub. I bought toe spacers over the counter too, so they wouldn’t press on each other, but I’d end up with painful cramp in my toes.
Walking became difficult too my feet would really hurt during days out rambling along the clifftops with my daughters and seven grandchildren.
My rheumatologist explained that since the toes curved upwards and then down, they were pulling up the cushioning pad on the ball of my foot so it felt as though I was walking on bone.
He prescribed methotrexate, which dampens down the body’s inflammatory response and slows the development of the disease. But it meant I had to keep away from people with minor illnesses, because I was more susceptible to catching them.
Eventually, in December 2005, two years after the problem started, I was referred to NHS foot surgeon David Redfern. He operated to straighten the toes in my left foot. I was in hospital overnight and he put wires through the toes to keep them in place while they healed.
I spent four weeks in plaster and with crutches, and when the wires came out six weeks after surgery I had a scar running down each toe. So it was a bit of an ordeal, but once they’d healed, each toe lay straight and the pain had gone.
But then my right foot started getting worse. The smaller toes on my right foot were curving under each other, so my foot looked like a pointed hoof and sometimes the pain was unbearable.
So I saw Mr Redfern again last October. He said he was now using a new way of operating through the keyhole, so there would be no need for wires much less scarring and a shorter recovery time.
It sounded brilliant, so I had the operation on May 14.
It took only around 15 minutes and this time when I woke there were no wires and no plaster just light dressings. I stayed in overnight, but I could put my full weight on the foot immediately.
I had to wear a special shoe with room for the bandages and used crutches to help me balance and stop other people treading on my toes for about a month.
When I saw Mr Redfern again two weeks later, he took the dressing off and was delighted with how well I’d healed. I couldn’t believe how tiny the scars were just half a centimetre.
Finally I can do all the things I love without any pain, and take long clifftop and beach walks it’s wonderful.
David Redfern is consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust and Sussex Orthopaedic Treatment Centre. He says:
Around one in three of us develops a toe deformity, which often gets worse as we get older. Hammer toes are the most common of these deformities in the smaller toes and often occur because the toe joint becomes inflamed. This weakens the tissues that hold the toe in its correct position.
Instead of tendons holding the toe in place, there is an imbalance so the toe starts to bend.
This can be as a result of repetitive injury and taking too much weight, but rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation of the joints, can make it worse, as it causes weakening of the structures holding the toe in place. When this has gone on for a long time, the ligaments become fixed.
The top of the toe can rub on footwear these bent toes can also start leaning into each other and can overlap.
Toes that become bent can also pull up the pad of fat which works as a shock absorber under the foot.
So patients are walking on the head of the metatarsal, or long bone in the foot, rather than on the ball of the foot. Some describe the pain as crippling.
Patients can try wearing toe socks, which are silicone sleeves which pad the toe to stop it rubbing on shoes. Or they can try insoles, which redistribute the weight. They can also avoid high heels, because although heels don’t cause the problem they can make it worse by putting more weight on these abnormal toes.
When all else fails, traditional surgery can correct the toe. The surgeon cuts through one of the overtight tendons that is pulling the toe out of shape and then fuses the joints back into place.
However, we have typically had to use wires to hold the toe in the correct position while it heals, for up to six weeks. The surgery meant incisions of up to 5cm, which left scarring and a recovery period of three to six months.