What is Claw Toe?

Claw toe is a type of deformity of the foot where the toe joint closest to the balls of the feet bends upward, while the other joints bend downwards. The condition gives the appearance of a claw, hence the name. Although a claw toe may be painful and calluses may develop, that is not always the case. However, every sufferer will have problems wearing shoes among other complications.

Causes of Claw Toes

Many people think the condition is a result of shoes squeezing the toes but this is not usually the case. Generally, the problem is caused by nerve damage that creates an imbalance when the tendons of the toes contract. Flat feet play a major part in creating such an imbalance, although conditions like alcoholism and diabetes may also cause nerve damage. This means claw toes may be either congenital or acquired.

Six sets of muscles and different tendons are responsible for controlling movement of the toes. The muscles also provide stability for the toes. Some problems can make the larger muscles overpower the smaller ones, leading to the aforementioned imbalance. Claw toes result when the muscle known as flexor digitorum brevis overpowers the smaller toe muscles, which creates an over-contraction.

Conditions that may lead to claw toes also include:

• Surgery or ankle fractures

• Rheumatoid arthritis

• Multiple sclerosis

• Psoriasis

• Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease

• Cerebral palsy

• Other disorders of the nervous system or brain

Other contributing factors include age and gender with older people and women being more prone to the condition.

Symptoms of Claw Toes

• Toes bent upward from the balls of the feet

• Toes bent downwards at the middle towards the sole

• Toes may also bend at the top joints, leading to curling under the feet

• Sometimes corns develop under the balls of the feet or at the top of the toe

It is important for people experiencing such symptoms to seek medical evaluation. A doctor can perform some tests to determine the existence of some neurological disorders that affect the muscles of the feet. This is important because while the condition may not be harmful in itself, it can point to an underlying problem with the nervous system. These tests will rule out, or confirm, nerve, spine and muscle problems.


Treatment depends on severity and cause of deformity. Early treatment will avoid rigidity of the soft tissues, which requires surgery.