Crooked toes are a common condition you may be born with or acquire over time.
There are different types of crooked toes, and several potential causes for this condition. If you or your child has one or more crooked toes, you may be concerned that they will worsen, or become painful, if they haven’t already.
Crooked toes don’t always require medical treatment. Lifestyle changes and nonsurgical fixes can often help, as well as surgical solutions, if needed.
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about the causes and treatments of crooked toes.
Here are some common types of crooked toe:
Curly toe is a congenital condition that affects infants and children. Parents may not notice that their baby has curly toe until he or she begins to walk. Babies with curly toe have toes that curl under, usually on both feet.
This condition tends to occur in the third or fourth toe of each foot. Curly toe is sometimes referred to as an underlapping toe, since the affected toes curl underneath the toes they’re next to. Curly toe in babies sometimes corrects itself without treatment.
A hammer toe is any toe that has an abnormal bend in the middle joint. It’s caused by an imbalance between the ligaments, muscles, and tendons that work together to hold the toes straight.
Hammer toes are most likely to occur in the second or third toe of one or both feet. This condition is more common in women than in men. Your risk for hammer toe may go up as you age.
Mallet toes are similar to hammertoes, except the abnormal bend occurs in the top joint of the toe that is closest to the toenail. This condition is caused by muscle, ligament, or tendon imbalance.
Claw toes bend under towards the sole of the foot, and may even dig into the foot. In addition to being painful or uncomfortable, claw toes can cause open sores, corns, or calluses.
An overlapping toe is any toe that sits on top of an adjacent toe. Overlapping toes can be present in infants, children, and adults. They may occur on one or both feet, and are just as likely to affect men as women.
Crooked adductovarus toes rotate into the toe against where they are situated. This type of crooked toe is most commonly seen in the fourth or fifth toes of one or both feet.
Crooked toes havea number of potential causes. It’s possible to have more than one cause.
Some causes of crooked toes, such as curly toe, may have a hereditary link. Curly toe is caused by a too-tight flexor tendon that pulls the toe into a downward position. In some instances, this may be a hereditary trait.
Curly toe seems to run in families. If one or both parents have curly toe, their children are more likely to have it than those in the general population.
Tight or ill-fitting shoes
Wearing footwear that doesn’t fit properly can push your toes into an abnormal, curled position.
Shoes that are too-tight or too-short across the toe box can strain the muscles and tendons that are meant to keep toes straight and aligned. This can result in hammer toe, mallet toe, and adductovarus toe. Certain types of shoes, such as high heels that put pressure on toes, can also cause these conditions to occur.
Injury or trauma
If you break a toe and it doesn’t heal properly, it can become crooked. Severely stubbing your toe, or any type of trauma to the foot may also cause this result.
Obesity may play a role in causing or exacerbating crooked toe. People with severe obesity may be putting extra strain on the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons of their feet. A study done on 2,444 men and women (4,888 feet) found that severe obesity in men was associated with a greater incidence of claw toe.
Medical conditions that cause nerve damage in the foot (neuropathy) may sometimes lead to claw toe. These conditions include diabetes and alcoholism.
When left untreated, crooked toes may cause complications that make it difficult or uncomfortable for you to walk or be mobile. They include:
- pain or irritation, especially when wearing shoes
- open sores
- corns and calluses
- shortening of toe length
- permanent bend in the toe
- joint rigidity and inability to move the toe
How you treat a crooked toe will depend on how severe and long-lasting the condition has been. If your toes are still flexible, lifestyle changes may be enough to correct the condition. If rigidity has already occurred, more aggressive medical solutions may be required.
Solutions for fixing crooked toes include:
Buy shoes that fit
If your toes are flexible and can resume their natural alignment, changing your footwear may be enough to correct the problem. Instead of high heels, opt for lower, stacked heels or flats, and save the stiletto heels for short-term special occasions.
Also choose roomy shoes that provide enough space for your toes to lie flat, and fan out. Placing toe pads or insoles inside your shoes may also help alleviate discomfort and support the toe to resume its proper alignment.
Exercise your feet
Foot exercises designed to stretch the muscles and tendons of the toes may help. Try picking up small objects with your toes, or using them to crumple soft fabric, such as a towel. Working with a physical therapist may also be beneficial.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that using a toe spacing tool can be beneficial for alleviating crooked toe. Toe spacing tools are available over-the-counter. They can be worn with shoes, or alone, during sleep.
Toe taping is not typically recommended for infants born with congenital crooked toe. However, one
If your toe is flexible, your doctor may recommend keeping it in a straightened position with the help of a splint, toe wrap, or other types of orthotic devices.
If your toe has become rigid and permanently crooked, surgical treatments may be recommended, particularly if you’re experiencing pain and issues with mobility.
Surgery may involve cutting or removing a small section of the toe joint and rotating the toe into a straight position. Your doctor may also remove sections of bone that are injured or crooked.
The techniques used to correct crooked toe are typically done on an outpatient basis. Your foot may be placed in a splint during recovery for up to two weeks post-surgery. You may also be required to wear a walking boot for several weeks afterward.
There are several different forms of crooked toes and different causes for each condition. A crooked toe may be apparent at birth or may occur later in life.
Crooked toes can often be corrected by lifestyle strategies, such as choosing well-fitting footwear and avoiding high heels. At-home treatments, such as wearing a splint or toe spacer, may also help.
If the crooked toe has become set and rigid, or if it doesn’t respond to at-home treatment, surgery may be recommended.
See a doctor if you have concerns about a crooked toe, especially if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort as a result.