Claw toe is caused by nerve damage from diseases like diabetes or alcoholism, which can weaken muscles in the foot. The term stems from the toes' appearance—toes that look like claws digging down into the soles. Claw toe may lead to the formation of painful calluses. Claw toe worsens without treatment and may become a permanent deformity over time.
Common symptoms of claw toe include:
Toes bent upward from the joints at the ball of the foot.
Toes bent downward at the middle joints toward the sole of the foot.
Corns on the top of the toe or under the ball of the foot.
Claw toe deformities are easier to repair when detected early. Splints or tape is used to hold the toes in correct position.
Many disorders can affect the joints of the toes, causing pain and preventing the foot from functioning as it should. People of all ages can have toe problems, from inherited to acquired.
Toe deformities in adults result mainly from an imbalance of the tendons, causing them to stretch or tighten abnormally. People with abnormally long toes, flat feet, or high arches have a greater tendency to develop toe deformities. Arthritis is another major cause of discomfort and deformity. Toe deformities also can be aggravated by poorly fitting footwear, or if a fractured toe heals in a poor position.
The most common digital deformities are hammertoes, claw toes, mallet toes, bone spurs, and overlapping and underlapping toes.
Hallux Limitus (Stiff Big Toe Joint)
Hallux Limitus is a condition that results in stiffness of the big toe joint. It is normally caused by an abnormal alignment of the long bone behind the big toe joint, called the first metatarsal bone. Left untreated, Hallux Limitus can cause other joint problems, calluses, and/or diabetic foot ulcers. Painful bone spurs also can develop on the top of the big toe joint.
Anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, and/or functional orthotics are some of the common treatments for stiff big toe. Note: Please consult your physician before taking any medications. Surgery may be required if spurring around the joint becomes severe.
Hallax Rigidis (Rigid Big Toe)
An unmovable big toe, known as Hallux Rigidus, is the most common form of arthritis in the foot.
Hallux Rigidus occurs as a result of wear-and-tear injuries, which wear down the articular cartilage, causing raw bone ends to rub together. A bone spur, or overgrowth, may develop on the top of the bone. This overgrowth can prevent the toe from bending as much as it needs to when you walk. The resulting stiff big toe can make walking painful and difficult.
A bump, like a bunion or callus, that develops on the top of the foot.
Pain in the joint when active, especially as you push-off on the toes when you walk.
Stiffness in the big toe and an inability to bend it up or down.
Swelling around the joint.
Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed to reduce swelling and ease the pain. Note: Please consult your physician before taking any medications. Applying ice packs or soaking the foot in contrast baths (alternating cold and hot water) may also help reduce inflammation and control symptoms for a short period of time.
A stiff-soled shoe with a rocker or roller bottom design and possibly a steel shank or metal brace in the sole can help alleviate the symptoms. These types of shoes add greater support when walking and reduce the amount of bend in the big toe.
When damage is more severe, a surgical procedure may be performed to remove the bone spurs, as well as a portion of the foot bone, and allow the toe more room to bend.
Overlapping, Underlapping Toes
Overlapping toes are characterized by one toe lying on top of an adjacent toe. The fifth toe is the most commonly affected. Overlapping toes may develop in the unborn fetus. Passive stretching and adhesive taping is most commonly used to correct overlapping toes in infants, but the deformity usually recurs. Sometimes they can be surgically corrected by releasing the tendon and soft tissues about the joint at the base of the fifth toe. In some extreme cases, a pin may be surgically inserted to hold the toe in a straightened position. The pin, which exits the tip of the toe, may be left in place for up to three weeks.
Underlapping toes usually involve the fourth and fifth toes. (A special form of underlapping toes is called congenital curly toes). The cause of underlapping toes is unknown. It is speculated that they may be caused by an imbalance in muscle strength of the small muscles of the foot. If deformed toes are flexible, a simple release of the tendon in the bottom of the toe will allow for them to straighten. If the deformity is rigid, surgery may be needed to remove a small portion of the bone in the toe.
Subungal Exotosis (Bone Spur under Toenail)