What causes claw toe? 5 possible conditions

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Claw Foot

Claw foot, also known as claw toes, is a condition where your toes bend into a claw-like position. Claw foot can appear from birth, or your feet can become bent later on. They are uncomfortable but usually not a serious problem unless they are caused by an underlying disorder like stroke or diabetes. Claw foot does require medical treatment to stop the condition from worsening. If you suspect you have claw foot, make an appointment with your doctor.

Recognizing Them

When you have claw foot or claw toes, the bottom half of your toe points up while the top half bends down, which makes your toes look like claws. The very top of your toe might curve under as well. Your toes might hurt, and you might have corns or calluses on the part that sticks up from rubbing against your shoes. In some cases, claw foot does not cause any pain. Claw toes are sometimes referred to as “hammer toes,” but they are not the same thing. The two conditions share many similarities in how the toes bend, but they are caused by different muscles in the foot. (ASA)

Underlying Causes

Claw toes can form from several different conditions. They can occur following ankle surgery or ankle injuries. Inflammation can also cause your toes to bend into a claw-like position. In some cases, no cause is ever found. Sometimes claw toes develop due to nerve damage to your feet. This can make your foot muscles weaker, which leads to imbalances that force your toes to bend awkwardly. Underlying disorders that can cause claw toes include:

Stroke

This condition occurs when blood stops flowing to one area of your brain because of a clot or weak blood vessels. Strokes can cause serious nerve damage and strongly affect your muscles.

Diabetes

This condition occurs when your body has high levels of blood sugar because your pancreas cannot make enough insulin to control it or you become insulin resistant. Nerve damage, especially in the feet, is one of the complications that can result from this disease.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that occurs when the lining of your joints becomes inflamed, which can lead to joint deformities. It is an autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to destroy your tissues.

Cerebral Palsy

This condition can affect muscle tone, resulting in muscles that are either too stiff or too loose. It can be caused by abnormal brain development before birth or injury during delivery.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease

This is an inherited disorder that affects your nervous system. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it occurs in about one in every 2,500 people in the United States. (NINDS) It often causes weakness in the feet and toe deformities.

When to See a Doctor

Call your doctor if your toes show signs of becoming clawed. They will remain flexible at first, but can become permanently stuck in the claw-like position over time. Treatment is necessary to prevent this from happening. You should also see your doctor to be tested for certain underlying disorders that can cause claw foot, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Detecting these disorders early can help prevent serious complications.

Treating Them

Home Care

If your toes are still flexible, you can move them toward their natural position with your hands. Giving your toes a workout by using them to pick up objects can also help. Wearing shoes with plenty of room can make your toes feel more comfortable. Do not wear shoes that are too tight or shoes with high heels.

If your toes are becoming more rigid, look for shoes that have some extra depth in the toe area. You can also use a special pad to help take some pressure off the ball of your foot. You might also have a shoe repair shop stretch the toe area of your shoes.

Medical Care

Your doctor might tape your toes or have you wear a splint to keep them in the right position if they are still flexible.

If home care does not help or if your toes have become too rigid, you might need to have them corrected with surgery. This can be done by shortening the bone at the base of your toe, which gives your toe more room to straighten out.

If you were diagnosed with an underlying disorder, treatment will depend on what condition you have and how severe it is.

What to Expect

Claw foot should improve with home care if your toes are still flexible. Home care measures might help if your toes are rigid, but you might need surgery to stop them from becoming permanently claw-like. If you have surgery, your toes should heal within six to eight weeks.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, a disease in which the immune system mistakes the body's own cells for invaders. In RA, the immune system attacks the synovia, the membranes lining the joints.

Read more »

2

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a disorder of muscle movement and coordination caused by an injury to a child's brain that occurs before birth or during infancy. It affects the part of the brain that controls body movement. Othe...

Read more »

3

Diabetes Overview

Diabetes is a group of chronic metabolic diseases caused by defects in insulin production or function. Advanced diabetes may cause stomach pain, nausea, dizziness, and cramps.

Read more »

4

Charcot Marie Tooth Disease

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) is an inherited peripheral nerve disorder. The peripheral nerves are located on the surface of the brain and the spinal cord. These nerves connect the central nervous system to the res...

Read more »

5

Hammer Toe

A hammertoe is a deformity that causes a toe to bend or curl downward instead of pointing forward. This deformity can affect any toe on the foot; however, it most often affects the second or third toe. Although ...

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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