Why do my toes claw?

If the last two joints of your toe are bent like a claw and become inflexible, you may have a claw toe. Claw toes, which are frequently confused with hammertoes and mallet toes, can be hereditary, caused by ill-fitting shoes, muscle imbalances, or a symptom of neurological disease. They can be painful and make walking and running difficult.

What are claw toes?

Claw toes are toes that have been bent into an abnormal claw-like shape, as the name indicates. The condition usually affects the smallest four toes and the buckle of the middle and end joints (the joints furthest away from your ankle).

Claw toes are frequently associated with a high arched (cavus) foot, muscle imbalances, or, in rare cases, a neurological condition. Diabetes can lead to foot ulcers due to decreased foot sensitivity.

If your claw toes are not treated, they may become permanently stiff. 

Do claw toes hurt?

Because your toes are pushed down into the soles of your shoes, claw toes can cause pain. Corns and calluses can form as a result of pressure and rubbing on the bottom of the shoe or the top of the toes. Infections may occur on rare occasions. 

What are the different stages of claw toes? 

There are two stages:

  1. Flexible: This is an early stage, so be adaptable. Even though your toes are stiff, they still flex at the joints.
  2. Rigid: This is the final stage in which your toes are stuck and unmoving.

During the flexible stage, surgery is most effective.

What distinguishes hammertoes from claw toes?

Weak muscles are the cause of hammertoes. Additionally, a hammertoe is a slight bend in the centre of the second toe.

What distinguishes mallet toes from claw toes?

Mallet toes only have a bend in the last joint, whereas claw toes have bent middle and end joints.

Who is prone to claw toes?

Toe deformities are more common in people who have high arches or who rotate their feet inward while walking.

How do claw toes develop?

An imbalance in the foot muscles frequently causes claw toes. Particularly, overly tight toe muscles can cause tendons to tighten and joints to bend. The following causes of imbalanced foot muscles include:

  • Genes
  • Unsuitable footwear
  • Diabetes-related nerve injury
  • Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Alcoholism-related nerve damage
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease
  • Tumors in the spinal cord
  • Cerebral palsy and polio
  • Stroke (affected on the foot of the same side as the stroke)
  • Trauma

Symptoms of claw toes

Claw toes aren’t just bent toes. Other symptoms can include calluses, corns, swelling, blisters, pain or an ulcer.

What is the treatment for claw toes?

Claw toe deformities are typically flexible at first but harden over time. If you have a claw toe in its early stages, your Canadian Certified Pedorthist may advise you to use a splint or tape to keep your toes in the proper position. Claw toes can be treated non-surgically or surgically. The majority of them are doable at home. Non-surgical claw toe treatments include:

  • Wearing shoes with wide toe boxes (footwear modification), low heels, and adequate arch support.
  • Wearing wider and deeper shoes with soft soles and few seams in the toe box.
  • Use pads, arch supports, or other shoe inserts to cushion the toe.
  • Exercising toe muscles to strengthen and stretch them.
  • A splint or tape to keep your toes where they should be.
  • High heels should be avoided.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Custom foot orthotics

If you have claw toe in its later stages:

  • A special pad can redistribute your weight and relieve pressure on your foot’s ball.
  • Try special “in-depth” shoes with an additional 3/8″ depth in the toe box.
  • To accommodate the deformity, have a shoe repair shop stretch a small pocket in the toe box.
  • If none of these treatments work, you may need surgery to correct the problem.

To summarize, claw toes have a variety of symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options. Consult a Canadian Certified Pedorthist for non-surgical treatment options for your clawed toes. To locate a Pedorthist near you, visit https://www.pedorthic.ca/.

Written by Reza Sands, C. Ped (C)