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Claw Toes Overview
People often blame the common foot deformity claw toe on wearing shoes that squeeze your toes, such as shoes that are too short or high heels. However, claw toe also is often the result of nerve damage caused by diseases like diabetes or alcoholism, which can weaken the muscles in your foot. Having claw toe means your toes “claw,” digging down into the soles of your shoes and creating painful calluses. Claw toe gets worse without treatment and may become a permanent deformity over time.
Cause of Claw Toes
Claw toes result from a muscle imbalance which causes the ligaments and tendons to become unnaturally tight. This results in the joints curling downwards. Arthritis can also lead to many different forefoot deformities, including claw toes.
Symptoms of Claw Toes
Besides looking odd, hammer, claw, and mallet toes may:
- Make it hard to find shoes that fit.
- Rub against your footwear. You may get calluses or corns where a bent toe presses against another toe or your shoe or where the toe’s tip touches the ground.
In more severe cases, these toe problems may affect your balance and make it hard to walk.
How Claw Toes Diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health and do a physical exam. Your doctor will want to know:
- When the problems started, what activities or shoes make them worse, and if other parts of the foot are painful.
- What kind of shoes you wear and how much time you spend standing or walking every day.
- Any previous foot problems you have had.
- Any medical conditions you have that could be related, such as arthritis, diabetes, or poor circulation.
During the physical exam, your doctor will look at your foot to see if the toe joint is fixed or flexible. A joint that has some movement can sometimes be straightened without surgery. A fixed joint often requires surgery.
If you are thinking about having surgery to correct your problem, you may need:
- An X-ray to help the doctor decide what type of surgery would be most helpful.
- Blood flow testing, which may include Doppler ultrasound, if your foot seems to have poor blood flow.
- Nerve testing if your doctor thinks you have nerve problems in your foot. If this is the case, you may need to see a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in brain, spine, and nerve problems.
Treatment for Claw Toes
Claw toe deformities are usually flexible at first, but they harden into place over time. If you have claw toe in early stages, your doctor may recommend a splint or tape to hold your toes in correct position. Additional advice:
- Wear shoes with soft, roomy toe boxes and avoid tight shoes and high-heels.
- Use your hands to stretch your toes and toe joints toward their normal positions.
- Exercise your toes by using them to pick up marbles or crumple a towel laid flat on the floor.
If you have claw toe in later stages and your toes are fixed in position:
- A special pad can redistribute your weight and relieve pressure on the ball of your foot.
- Try special “in depth” shoes that have an extra 3/8″ depth in the toe box.
- Ask a shoe repair shop to stretch a small pocket in the toe box to accommodate the deformity.
If these treatments do not help, you may need surgery to correct the problem.
Pictures of Claw Toes