What Causes Claw Toe?

Conditions list medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA

Claw foot is also known as claw toes. It’s a condition in which your toes bend into a claw-like position. Claw foot can appear from birth, or your feet can become bent later on. It’s usually not a serious problem on its own, but it can be... Read More

What is claw foot?

Claw foot is also known as claw toes. It’s a condition in which your toes bend into a claw-like position. Claw foot can appear from birth, or your feet can become bent later on. It’s usually not a serious problem on its own, but it can be uncomfortable. It can also a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as cerebral palsy or diabetes.

If you suspect you have claw foot, make an appointment with your doctor. To prevent claw foot from getting worse, it’s important to get an early diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of claw foot

When you have claw foot, the toe joints closest to your ankle point up, while your other toe joints bend down. This makes your toes look like claws.

In some cases, claw foot doesn’t cause any pain. In other cases, your toes might hurt, and you might develop corns or calluses or ulcers on parts that rub against your shoes.

Claw toes are sometimes mistakenly referred to as “hammer toes,” but they’re not the same thing. While the two conditions share many similarities, they’re caused by different muscles in your foot.

Causes of claw foot

Claw foot can develop as a result of several different conditions. For example, you may develop claw foot following ankle surgery or ankle injuries. Nerve damage can weaken your foot muscles, leading to imbalances that force your toes to bend awkwardly. Inflammation can also cause your toes to bend into a claw-like position.

Underlying disorders that can cause claw foot include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This is an autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to attack healthy tissues in your joints. As a result, the lining of your joints becomes inflamed, which can lead to joint deformities.
  • Cerebral palsy: This condition can affect your 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.
  • Diabetes: This condition occurs when your body has high levels of blood sugar due to insulin resistance or inadequate insulin production. Nerve damage, especially in your feet, is one of the complications that can result from diabetes.
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease: This is a rare inherited disorder that can affect your nervous system. If you have this condition, it can cause weakness in your feet and toe deformities.
  • Stroke: This condition occurs when blood stops flowing to an area of your brain due to a blood clot or weak blood vessels. Strokes can cause serious nerve damage and affect your muscles, including muscles in your feet.

In some cases, the underlying cause of claw foot is never identified.

When to see your doctor

Call your doctor if your toes show signs of becoming clawed. They may be flexible at first, but they can become permanently stuck in a claw-like position over time. Treatment is necessary to prevent this from happening.

Your doctor will also check for underlying disorders that can cause claw foot, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Early diagnosis and treatment may prevent serious complications and improve your quality of life.

Treating claw foot

To treat claw foot, your doctor may recommend a combination of medical interventions and home care.

Medical care

If your toes are still flexible, your doctor might tape them or ask you to wear a splint to keep them in the right position. They may teach you how to perform home care exercises to maintain your toes’ flexibility. They may also encourage you to wear certain types of shoes, while avoiding others.

If these treatments don’t help or your toes have become too rigid, your doctor might recommend surgery. Your surgeon can shorten the bone at the base of your toe, giving your toe more room to straighten out.

If your claw foot is linked an underlying disorder, your doctor may prescribe medications, surgery, or treatments to help address it.

Home care

If your toes are still flexible, performing regular exercises may help alleviate your symptoms or prevent them from getting worse. For example, your doctor may encourage you to move your toes toward their natural position, using your hands. Picking up objects with your toes may also help.

Wearing shoes with plenty of room can help alleviate discomfort. Don’t wear shoes that are too tight or shoes with high heels. If your toes are becoming more rigid, look for shoes that have extra depth in the toe area. You can also use a special pad to help take pressure off the ball of your foot.

Outlook for claw foot

Home care measures may help improve your symptoms, especially if your toes are still flexible. In some cases, you might need surgery to stop your toes from becoming permanently clawed. If you have surgery, your toes should heal within six to eight weeks.

Ask your doctor for more information about your specific condition, treatment options, and long-term outlook.

Medically reviewed by William Morrison, MD on November 14, 2016Written by Amanda Delgago


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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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