What is Claw Toe?

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What are claw toes?

As the name implies, claw toes are a common deformity where the toes bend into a claw like position. The toes bend downward and dig into the soles of the shoe and can lead to blisters or calluses on the tops of tips of the toes. This usually occurs in the four smaller toes where both joints in the toe are bent. Hammer toe only affects the first joint (closest to the ankle) of the toes, and mallet toe only affects the end joint (furthest from the ankle).

Claw toe

People are susceptible to claw toe when they have high arches and/ or rotate their feet inward while walking. Claw toe can also be painful because the toes are pushed downward into the soles of the shoes. Claw toes have 2 stages of severity: flexible and rigid. The first stage of claw toe is the flexible stage where the toes are stiff but can still flex at the joints. The rigid stage comes after, where the toes can no longer move and are stuck.

Causes of claw toe

Claw toe can have many symptoms ranging in severity.  While it can be a genetic condition, it can also be a result of poor fitting shoes. Claw toe often stems from nerve damage from diseases like alcoholism or diabetes, which can weaken muscles in the foot. Other causes can be arthritis, some form of foot trauma, a stroke where the stroke-side of the foot is affected and spinal cord injuries.

Symptoms of claw toe

• First joint of the toes (near the ball of the foot) cause toes to bends upward.

• Toes are bent downward from the last two joints causes them to claw at the sole.

• Calluses and blisters on the tip and top of the toe

• Corns can develop in similar spots as the calluses

• Pain and swelling in toes and ball of the foot.

Claw toe diagram

Diagnosis and treatment

Claw toe gets worse with time, so seeing a physician sooner is better. See a doctor for an evaluation if symptoms occur. Certain tests can be performed to rule out nerve damage in toes.

In the flexible stage of claw toe, a doctor might advise you to bend your toes with stretches to achieve a normal toe position. Wearing a toe splint to hold the toes in a neutral position can also be done.

toe splint

If the toe is in the rigid stage, surgery may be needed to correct the problem. Accommodations can also be made in the shoe to give toes a small pocket to sit in.

While it may be a painful condition, the good news is that treatments are available and wearing shoes with a wide toe box can go a long way to hep prevent claw toe from occurring in the first place.

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