Claw Toe

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Claw toe is a deformity of the toes that can interfere with the function of the foot. A "claw" toe is a toe that is contracted at the middle and end joints. Tight ligaments and tendons cause the tow to curl downward, putting pressure against the sole of the shoe.

Without treatment, they will become worse over time. Claw toes can become rigid and permanently deformed, making foot movement extremely painful.

Causes of claw toe

Claw toes result from a muscle imbalance in the foot. When the deeper toe muscles are weaker than the surface toe muscles, the ligaments and tendons in the toes become extremely tight, forcing the toes to curl down toward the sole of the foot.

There are several different medical conditions that can cause nerve damage and weaken the muscles in the foot: 

  • Alcoholism. 
  • Arthritis. 
  • Diabetes. 
  • Spinal cord tumors. 
  • Stroke.

All of these conditions can lead to different foot deformities, including claw toe.

Claw toe symptoms

Claw toe causes the toes to dig down into the soles of the shoes. Eventually, the toes become fixed in that position, resulting in pain and pressure along the joints of the toes.

Symptoms of claw toe include: 

  • Corns and calluses on the top of toe or the ball of the foot. 
  • Painful calluses on the top or bottom of the toes caused by pressure from shoes. 
  • Toes bent down at the middle joint of the toe. 
  • Toes bent upward from the joint at the base of the toes.

One of the main symptoms of claw toe is pain - pain from the toes rubbing against the top and bottom of the shoe, as well as pain in the ball of the foot.

Claw toe treatment

Claw toe can be treated when caught early (the toe must still be flexible). To treat early stage claw toe, most doctors will recommend wearing a toe splint or taping the toes to hold them in the correct position. You can also exercise and stretch the toe to increase flexibility. It is best to avoid wearing tight shoes with a narrow toe box.

When claw toes become rigid and fixed, the goal of treatment is to relieve some of the pressure on the toes to reduce pain and discomfort. Foot pads can help redistribute weight in the foot and relieve the pressure. Special shoes are also available with an extra wide and deep toe box to accommodate the toe deformity. If conservative treatments are not helping to reduce pain, surgery may be necessary to correct the problem.

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