You may have a claw toe if the last two joints of your toe are bent like a claw and becoming inflexible. Often mistaken for hammertoes and mallet toes, claw toes can be hereditary, caused by ill-fitting shoes, muscle imbalances or a symptom of a neurological disease. They can be painful, and make it difficult for you to walk and run.
Claw toes, as the name implies, are toes bent into an abnormal claw-like shape. The condition usually happens to the four smaller toes of your foot and it’s the middle and end joints (the joints furthest away from your ankle) that buckle.
Claw toes are often associated with a high arched (cavus) foot type, muscle imbalances or occasionally a neurological condition. Ulcers may develop in people with diabetes because of decreased foot sensitivity.
If you don’t get treatment for your claw toes, they may become permanently stiff.
Claw toes can cause pain because your toes get pushed down into the soles of your shoes. Corns or calluses may result from the pressure and rubbing on the bottom of the shoe or on the top of the toes. Rarely, infections may occur.
There are two stages:
Surgery is most effective during the flexible stage.
Hammertoes are caused by weak muscles. Also, a hammertoe is bent just in the second (middle) toe joint.
Claw toes have bent middle and end joints while a mallet toe is a bend in just the last joint.
People with high arches, or those who tend to rotate their feet inward while walking, are susceptible to toe deformities.
Yes, toe deformities can be inherited.
Most of the time an imbalance of foot muscles typically causes claw toes. Specifically, your toe muscles contract too far, tighten the tendons and bend the joints. Foot muscles become unbalanced due to the following factors:
What are the symptoms of claw toes?
Claw toes are more than just bent toes. Additional symptoms include:
Your claw toes will get progressively worse with time.
Caused by pressure and rubbing, corns and calluses are common in people who have claw toes. A bent joint can rub against the inside of a shoe, and so can the bottom of your foot. Corns are small and round and calluses are larger and have a more irregular shape. They may or may not be painful.
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination of your toes, likely touching them to see how they move.
You may be tested for neurological problems. Some neurological disorders can weaken the muscles of your foot, which creates imbalances that bend your toes.
Your primary healthcare provider may refer you to a podiatrist and/or a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon.
Your healthcare provider may ask the following questions during your appointment:
There are both non-surgical and surgical treatments for claw toes. Most of them you can do at home. Non-surgical treatments for claw toes include:
The severity of your claw toes determines what type of surgery you’ll have. Your healthcare provider will categorize your claw toe as early or late stage, either flexible or rigid. Surgical treatments for claw toes include:
Simply use your fingers to stretch your toes. Then, exercise your toes by using them to pick things up off the ground. Recommended objects include:
Your claw toe surgery will be outpatient, meaning that you won’t have to spend a night in the hospital.
All surgeries come with risks. Claw toe surgery, specifically, comes with the following risks:
About four to six weeks.
Your healthcare provider may recommend the following:
If you don’t get treatment, your claw toes may become permanent. That may make walking and running painful and hard. See your healthcare provider as soon as you have symptoms to keep your toe joints from becoming rigid.
Yes, but your claw toes may make walking and running difficult.
Do your exercises, stretch your toes and don’t hesitate to get surgery if you need it. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.
See your healthcare provider as soon as you notice that you’re having trouble flexing the joints of your toes.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Take care of your feet by wearing sensible shoes, filing down corns and calluses and exercising your toes. Remember that it’s important to get treatment as soon as you notice symptoms of claw toes. If you wait too long, they could become inflexible, and you might need surgery. Take care of your feet.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/11/2021.
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