Claw and Hammer Toe
This is a common foot deformity. With it, one or more toes buckle and curl into a claw shape. Overtime, a claw toe can become locked in this position. It can dig into the sole of your foot. You may have trouble finding comfortable shoes.
This condition is a deformity in which a toe bends downward at the middle joint. The second toe is the one most likely to be affected, but this deformity can occur in other toes as well. Sometimes, more than one toe is affected.
Causes & Triggers
Claw toe can develop in a few ways. It can be caused by shoes that don’t allow enough room for your toes. This leads to an imbalance in the muscles of your foot, causing your toe to curl. Claw toe can also be caused by damage to nerves in the feet. This can happen if you have a condition such as diabetes or arthritis. It can result from alcoholism, stroke, or other factors.
Hammer toe can be caused by certain types of footwear – especially women’s shoes – that put pressure on the toes and don’t provide proper space for them. High-heeled shoes and shoes with narrow toe boxes are common culprits. These can force the toes to bend into an abnormal position. Hammer toe can also develop as a result of injury, nerve damage, a muscle imbalance in the toes, or a bunion that pushes the big toe out of alignment.
- A high, natural arch
- Footwear that causes pressure on the joints over time, including shoes and boots that are:
- Too short
- Tight fitting, high heeled or pointed
- One-half to one size too small
- Muscle imbalance in the toe
- Nerve damage resulting from diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or injury
Signs & Symptoms
This deformity most often affects the small toes. It can affect all four. A claw toe bends up at its base, and the middle joint bends downward. The joint at the end of the toe may bend as well. A claw toe can cause pain. You may develop corns or callouses as your toe rubs against your shoe.
The most obvious symptom of hammer toe is a downward, claw-like bend in the toe at the middle joint. The toe will be flexible at first, but without treatment it can become rigid. A hammer toe maybe painful, and movement can be difficult. Corns and calluses may form as the toe rubs against the shoe.
- Difficulty finding shoes that fit
- Pain or discomfort
- Trouble with balance or walking
- Unusual bend to the toes
- Upward for the first joint; downward for the middle joints in hammer toe
- Downward curl for middle and end of toe joint, upward for first joint in claw toe
- Corns and calluses from footwear rubbing against toes
Tips & Treatment
Treatment options depend on the severity of your deformity. In its early stages, a claw toe can be treated with splinting or taping, shoes that give you more toe room, and stretches and exercises. If it is locked in the bent position, you may need special shoes or pads. You may benefit from surgery. Your healthcare provider can create a plan that’s right for you.
Treatment will vary depending upon the stage of the condition. Conservative treatment options include flat shoes with roomy toe boxes, and the use of inserts, pads or cushions. Toe exercises may help stretch and strengthen the toe muscles. If these options are not successful, surgery may be needed to straighten the toe.
- Without treatment, claw toe can worsen or become permanent.
- Surgery may be required.