Claw Toe

Many tools are shaped in a curve for maximum power or efficiency. The edge of a hammer, for example, is shaped perfectly to help guide out a nail. A crowbar has the perfect small curve to pry open almost anything. A curve in your toe, though, is not useful and could actually be indicative of a painful foot deformity. Claw toe is one toe problem that causes toes to become curled and curved, and it can affect your foot health and mobility if left untreated. 

Claw ToeWhat Caused My Toes to Curl?

We don’t think about our toes too much, as they are often hidden in socks and shoes. When this type of condition starts appearing, though, you need to take action. One of the contributing factors of claw toe is a tight pair of shoes that cramps your feet. You have muscles and tendons in your toes, and if your toes are squished into abnormal positions for long periods of time, these muscles and tendons can actually become weakened and/or shortened. When this happens, the toes curl and will not lie flat. Neurological conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, alcoholism, diabetes, biomechanical problems, and trauma to the foot are other factors that can cause muscle imbalance and lead to this deformity. With claw toe, the toe bends up at the joint closest to the foot and then curls downward at the middle and end joints, which is what gives it the claw-like appearance. The problem affects the four smaller toes and it can affect just one or all of them at the same time.

There are two degrees of this deformity: flexible and rigid. Imagine you were gluing something together—at first it would still be moldable, but as the glue hardened, the two pieces would become fixed in place. With claw toe, the bent digits start out flexible and you can manually straighten out your toes. As the deformity progresses, the digits only become rigid and eventually stuck in place. When they are permanently fixed in the curled position, your toe movement is limited and it can be quite painful. The tops of your toes can rub against the inside of your shoes and as a result, corns and calluses can develop. The end of your toe can also press into the ground, which adds strain to the toe joints and causes toe pain. When toes are rigid, it may be difficult to find shoes that are comfortable and you may be limited in the types of activities you can do.

Getting Help

The good news is that we can typically treat this deformity successfully with conservative measures if the issue is treated early enough. We will examine your toes to determine the severity and underlying cause. If a disease or pre-existing condition is to blame, then treating or managing that as well will help prevent the deformity from coming back. We may implement the use of physical therapy to strengthen and stretch your toes, which can counteract any muscle imbalance that is pulling the toes up. Wearing shoes with roomy toe boxes is important to allow the toes to spread out and will help prevent corns from developing. Many patients also benefit from custom orthotics that offer extra cushioning and support. We can provide cushioning pads if your toes are stiff and corns are present to relieve the pain, and in some cases taping and splinting is effective as well. If these conservative treatments don’t work then we can discuss surgery as an option to straighten your toes and resolve your pain.

Don’t wait until the problem is so bad that you are in constant pain and surgery is the only option. If you see your toes curling up, contact Harvey R. Danciger, DPM so we can step in and stop the claw toe from worsening. Call our office in Palm Desert, CA at (760) 568-0108 or request an appointment directly through our website.

Photo Credit: Hans via

Dr. Harvey Danciger
Connect with me
Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle