You may have heard about hammer toe or mallet toe, but did you know there is also a condition known as claw toe? In claw toe deformity, the four smaller toes of the foot bend upward at the joint that meets the foot, and the two joints nearest the tips of the toes bend downward, resulting in a curled, claw-like appearance. The big toe is not affected.
Claw toes can be either rigid or flexible. If you have flexible claw toes, it’s possible to “uncurl” the toes and straighten the joints with your hand without discomfort. Rigid claw toes are much more painful and it’s difficult to straighten the toes.
Symptoms of Claw Toes
The most common symptom of claw toes is visible – the toes are positioned abnormally. Pain isn’t always associated with claw foot, but is more common when the toes have become more rigid. Because of the change in foot alignment, calluses and corns can develop more easily among those with claw foot as pressure and friction act on the knuckles and ball of the foot. These growths may bring pain or discomfort even if the joints themselves aren’t yet directly causing pain.
Causes of Clawed Toes
Generally, claw toes are caused when there is a muscle imbalance which causes the tendons and ligaments of the feet to become tightened. This makes the joints to curl downwards.
The following factors can contribute to the clawed toe deformity:
- Injury to the ankle, nerve damage or inflammation.
- Wearing shoes that do not fit your feet, shoes that have small toe box and shoes with high heels. These type of shoes force the toes to cramp together, causing your tendons to shorten over time.
- Heavy drinking. Alcohol consumption can lead to nerve damage that weakens the muscles in the foot, resulting in claw toes.
- Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis can cause claw toes. These conditions weaken the ligaments of the foot and cause joint inflammation.
- Spinal cord diseases such as a tumor can affect the nerves of the foot, leading to claw toes.
Treatment of Claw Toes
Early treatment of clawed toes is critical for preventing them from becoming rigid and avoiding corns, calluses and other painful complications. It is easy to treat if the toes are still flexible. Below are some of the treatment options available for claw toes:
- Use custom orthotics: You can wear toe crests under your toes to keep them straight in your shoes.
- Use shoes that have wide and soft toe box.
- Use exercises such as picking up small objects with your toes to strengthen the muscles of the toes.
If your toes become rigid and difficult to straighten out, claw toe surgery may be required. Surgery will help to reposition the toes in order to straighten them out, sometimes with the aid of steel pins.
Claw toe deformity may be prevented by wearing shoes with wider toe boxes and treating underlying conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, and spinal cord diseases. If you notice that your once-straight toes are bending in a way that causes concern, see podiatrist Gabriel Maislos, DPM, FACFAS at Houston Foot and Ankle Care. Dr. Maislos will be able to diagnose the condition and let you know if it’s claw toe, hammer toe, mallet toe, or something else. We can also provide care for corns and calluses. If you require orthotics, Houston Foot and Ankle Care can help you get the right product for your condition. Call (713) 541-3199 to get started.