What Is Claw Toe?

When talking about common foot deformities the type of deformity that comes to mind is the Claw Toe Deformity which is felt to be normally caused due to poor footwear where the shoe is quite narrow near the toe end thus cramping the toe for space resulting in Claw Toe Deformity, although the fact of the matter is that Claw Toe Deformity can also be caused due to some type of nerve damage in the toe area of the foot due to underlying medical conditions like diabetes mellitus. Alcoholics also tend to have problems with Claw Toe Deformity. Another thing about Claw Toe Deformity is that if this condition is not corrected in its initial phase then it may become a permanent deformity.

Claw Toe

What Causes Claw Toe?

One common cause of Claw Toe Deformity is some sort of injury or trauma to the toe or ankle region of the foot such as those injuries sustained while playing contact sports like soccer and rugby. Any type of surgical procedure to the ankle may also cause muscle weakness resulting in Claw Toe Deformity. Apart from that, Claw Toe Deformity is normally caused due to excessive alcohol intake and medical condition like diabetes mellitus. Shoes that do not fit properly are also one of the causes of Claw Toe Deformity where the toe gets cramped for space and moves upwards. To explain this in medical terminology, due to ill fitting shoes the muscles in the toe region become significantly tight as there is no space for the toe to be in a relaxed position for prolonged periods of time which results in contraction of the tendons of the toes and hence the toe is unable to become straight even after coming out of the ill fitting footwear. Below mentioned are some of the medical conditions which can cause Claw Toe Deformity:

Alcoholism As A Cause For Claw Toe: Excessive intake of alcohol causes significant nerve damage and makes the muscles of the toes weak causing Claw Toe Deformity.

Diabetes Mellitus & Claw Toe Deformity: Diabetes tends to cause foot ulcers which in turn may lead to Claw Toe Deformity.

Cerebral Palsy: This is a neurological condition which adversely affects the muscle tone of the body. When the muscle tone of the foot region gets adversely affected it may cause Claw Toe Deformity.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome: It is a type of an inherited muscular disorder in which the muscles become extremely weak in the body, including the foot region which can cause Claw Toe Deformity.

Arthritis: This is also one of the common causes of Claw Toe Deformity as due to arthritis the ligaments of the foot become weak and start causing different foot deformities of which Claw Toe Deformity is one.

Spine Problems: If an individual has any problem with the spinal cord then this may cause significant damage to the nerves of the foot leading to Claw Toe Deformity.

How Is Claw Toe Different From Hammertoe?

Literature suggests that there is often a lot of confusion between what is a Claw Toe Deformity and what is Hammertoe Deformity as they both are quite similar with the main difference between them being the muscles affected in the two deformities which are different. Another striking difference between the two deformities is that a Claw Toe Deformity affects more than one toe at a time whereas Hammertoe Deformity affects only one toe at a time.

What Are The Symptoms Of Claw Toe?

Claw Toe Deformity is a visible deformity and can be seen easily by noticing that the toe is not in its normal anatomical position. Claw Toe Deformity gets its name from the way the toe is shaped as it is bent at the proximal interphalangeal joint and the distal interphalangeal joint. The bend is so obvious that one can see the toe being bent under and the toe is extremely stiff. Because of this stiffness and inability to move the joint, this deformity causes a lot of pain in the toes, although in some cases it is absolutely painless. There may also be development of corns or calluses due to the friction created between the knuckles rubbing against the footwear.

How Is Claw Toe Diagnosed?

Once you observe that your toes are bent and you are not able to straighten it up then it is recommended that you see a physician for an evaluation as it may be a Claw Toe Deformity. The treating physician will conduct certain tests to rule out any nerve damage due to medical conditions that may make the muscles and nerves of the foot weak. The physician will also inquire about you sustaining any injury to direct blow to the toe during any activity.

How Is Claw Toe Treated?

In the initial phase, even with a Claw Toe Deformity you will be able to move the toe but as time passes by the toe starts to become hard and it becomes difficult to move the toes so it is important to get the deformity treated at its earliest stage. For correction of Claw Toe Deformity in its initial stages, the treating physician will recommend splints or tape so that the toe remains in normal position. Additionally, the physician may recommend the following:

  • Wear footwear that have ample amount of toe space so that the toes do not get cramped up and also avoid wearing high heeled shoes or sandals to keep the toes in natural position.
  • Stretch the toes as much as possible if you are wearing tight fitting shoes at the end of the toe so that the joint does not become stiff and stays anatomically correct.
  • Try to pick up small pieces of articles like tiny bits of paper or stones using the toes so that they remain flexible.
  • There are special pads available in the market which tend to relieve some pressure off of the toe and keeps them flexible.
  • In case these treatments are not helpful in correcting the deformity then the only other option left is a corrective surgery for Claw Toe Deformity.

What Are The Complications Of Claw Toe?

The most common complication of Claw Toe Deformity is development of calluses or corns on the foot. The calluses are formed as the deformity puts the foot in a position where the other parts of the foot feel the pressure resulting in the formation of corns or calluses.

How Can Claw Toe Be Prevented?

Prevention of Claw Toe Deformity depends on the cause of it. If there is a neurological condition causing the deformity then it becomes extremely vital to get the condition treated to prevent further complications. In case of diabetes, it is again important to keep the blood sugars under control in order to prevent complications. In case of this deformity is caused due to ill fitting footwear then make sure that you get the right shoe for your size with extra space for the toes so that they do not get cramped up and hence put pressure on the remaining part of the toes resulting in Claw Toe Deformity.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: April 4, 2015

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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