Like hammertoes and mallet toes, claw toes can be painful making it difficult to walk or run. While they are often mistaken for one of the other two conditions, claw toes always affect more than one toe joint (usually the middle and end joints). The toes curl downward and look like claws.
Causes and Risk Factors for Claw Toes
Claw toes are caused by an imbalance in the foot muscles. The following risk factors can cause this imbalance.
- Nerve damage or circulatory problems from diabetes, alcoholism, stroke, or Charcot Marie-Tooth Diease
- Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Shoes that are too tight or cramped at the toes
Claw Toe Symptoms
In the early stages claw toes can be flexible, but as they progress they become stuck in place. In addition to the claw-like feature of this condition, the following symptoms can develop:
- Corns and calluses
- Occasionally ulcers
Conservative Treatment for Claw Toes
In the early stages of claw toes the goal is toe treat the symptoms and prevent the condition from progressing. These treatments can include the following:
- Wear shoes with a roomier toe box—both width and depth. Eg. Dr. Comfort Double Depth Stretchable Shoes
- Asking a shoemaker to stretch existing shoes
- Removal of corns and calluses
- Splinting to hold toes in place
- Stretching and strengthening of the toes eg. Stretching: Some stretching exercises can be found in this video. Strengthening: Picking up marble with the toes or scrunching a towel.
Surgery for Claw Toes
Once the condition has progressed and toes become rigid, surgery may be needed to relieve the pain.
While you can't avoid some of the conditions that put you at risk for this condition, you can avoid wearing problematic shoes.