Our toes can bend and flex impressively well and with a high degree of sensitivity. Some people are even talented enough to grab objects or take up a pen with their feet! When our digits remain bent, however, that usefulness turns into a strange-looking and often painful condition. Claw toes often look like their name implies – arched like an animal’s nails or a bird’s talons. Their cause often stems from a form of imbalance.
A Crooked Path
Claw toes can affect the four smaller toes of the foot, often at the same time. The muscles and tendons of our toes keep them straight during rest, but anything that alters this setup over time can lead to a misalignment. In this case, the toe bends upward from the joint where it meets the ball of the foot, then downward at the middle joint. The end joint also tends to bend downward as well.
What causes the muscles and tendons to fall out of balance? In some cases, wearing shoes that are too tight have caused the toes to remain bent for too long, causing the muscles to tighten and the tendons to contract over time. In other cases, conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or foot and ankle trauma have caused nerve damage and weakened the muscles.
Aside from the visible deformity, this condition can also cause corns or calluses to develop on the affected toe. This is due to the toe rubbing against the footwear or neighboring toes, and can make it difficult to find shoes that fit or are comfortable. In more severe cases, the toes may be bent so rigidly that it affects one’s balance and ease of walking.
A Straight Way to Relief
The sooner a case of claw toes is diagnosed, the more effectively it can be treated. The longer the bent toes go without treatment, the less flexible they become, eventually hardening into place in some instances.
In earlier stages, the use of splints or tape may be recommended to hold your toes in the proper positions. Exercises to recondition and strengthen your toe muscles may also be part of a treatment plan, and can include routines such as picking up small objects or crumpling up a towel with your toes. Orthotics may also help by redistributing pressure along your feet and toes, placing less stress on the affected areas.
Treatment for more advanced stages of the condition tend to focus more on living comfortably with it. Custom orthotics can help in this case, as well as specialized shoes with deeper, wider toe boxes. If conservative measures don’t provide any relief, however, surgery may then be considered as an option.
No matter how long you have lived with claw toes, the doctors at California Foot and Ankle Institute can help you find comfort and potentially even restore straightness to your digits. Call us for an appointment and let us see what we can do for you. Phone (949) 833-3406 for our Irvine office.