You depend on your feet to stand tall, walk comfortably, and participate in your favorite sport and activities. So, when something starts going wrong with them, it's no wonder you feel not only pain but worry. One common foot problem arises when your toes start to curl up, remaining in this partially bend position unless you straighten them manually with your hands. This condition is called claw toe — and there are a few things you should know if you suspect you might have it.
What causes claw toe?
There are several possible causes of claw toe. Some people develop the condition after years of wearing poor-fitting shoes or heels that force their toes into the curled position. Others develop the condition as a result of an underlying disease such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis. These conditions can lead to damage to the nerves in the toes, and that nerve damage causes the muscles to remain in a partially contracted position, giving them a claw-like shape. If you do develop claw toe, your doctor will probably want to run a few tests to figure out what the most likely cause is.
What are the other symptoms or problems associated with claw toe?
Other than your toes curling up, you may notice that you start developing blisters where your toes rub on your shoes. Over time, these blisters may give way, and you'll instead develop calluses where your skin thickens in these areas. Some patients do not experience pain with claw toe, but others do find that their toes ache. Whether or not you experience pain will depend on the extent of nerve damage associated with your claw toe.
How is claw toe treated?
If you suspect you have claw toe, you should make an appointment with a podiatrist or foot doctor. If you have a minor case, your doctor may simply recommend a special splint in your shoes to keep your toes straight and then doing some stretching exercises. If you do have diabetes or a nerve condition, treating or managing it properly will help claw toe subside or at least prevent it from worsening.
Surgery may be recommended if your claw toe symptoms do not respond to more conservative treatments. The surgery will usually involve cutting tendons and ligaments that have shortened due to years or the toes being held in a claw-like position.
If you think you may have claw toe, talk to a foot doctor. They'll pursue a diagnosis and help ensure you take the right steps forward.