Claw Toe Treatment

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Dr Poh Seng Yew

MBBS

MRCSEd

MMED (Ortho)

FRCSEd

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What is Claw Toe?

Claw toe is a toe deformity characterised by the bending of the toes into a claw-like position. This condition often affects the four smaller toes of the foot, involving primarily the middle and end joints. The abnormal bending of the toes can lead to them digging into the soles of shoes, often resulting in painful calluses.

If claw toe is not treated, it may progress to a state where the toes become permanently stiff​​​​.

Causes of Claw Toe

Claw toe can arise from several underlying factors:

  • Imbalance in Muscle Strength or Coordination in the Foot
    The primary cause is a muscle imbalance in the foot, where certain muscles become weak or tight. This can lead to abnormal toe positioning.
  • Genetic Predisposition
    Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to develop claw toe due to inherent muscular or structural imbalances in their feet.
  • Ill-Fitting Footwear
    Regular use of high heels or narrow shoes may force the toes into a cramped position. Over time, this can lead to the toes adapting a claw-like posture, especially if the shoes limit natural toe movement and alignment.
  • Certain Neurological Disorders
    Conditions such as polio, cerebral palsy, or peripheral neuropathy, often related to diabetes, can damage nerves or affect muscle strength and coordination. This nerve damage can disrupt the normal functioning of foot muscles, leading to imbalances that cause the toes to contract and form the characteristic claw shape.
  • Arthritis
    Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause joint deformities and muscle imbalances. These arthritic conditions can alter the biomechanics of the foot, potentially leading to the development of claw toe.
  • Trauma
    Physical injuries to the foot, such as fractures or severe sprains, can alter the alignment of the toes and the balance of muscular forces acting on them. Such trauma can initiate or exacerbate the clawing of the toes by disrupting normal toe positioning and movement​​​​.

Symptoms and Signs

The symptoms and signs of claw toe involve the following:

  • Bent Toes: A primary symptom is the noticeable bending of the toes, where they appear to be curling or arching unnaturally. This alters the positioning of the toes, bending them in a claw-like position.
  • Pain: Individuals with claw toe often experience discomfort or pain, especially when the toes are pushed down into the soles of shoes. The toes may also rub against the shoes, exacerbating the pain.
  • Swelling: Due to the constant pressure and abnormal positioning, swelling may occur around the affected toe joints, contributing to discomfort and potentially hindering foot mobility.
  • Corns and Calluses: Due to the abnormal positioning, corns may develop over the top of the toe, and calluses might form under the ball of the foot, often resulting from the toes pressing or rubbing against the inside of the shoe​​​​.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing claw toe involves a thorough physical examination and clinical assessment.


  • Physical Examination: The initial step typically includes a physical examination of the toes, assessing their flexibility, alignment, and any visible deformities.
  • Medical Review: The patient’s medical history is reviewed to understand any past foot problems, injuries, or underlying health conditions that may be contributing to the development of claw toe.
  • Neurological Assessment: Given the potential link with neurological disorders, tests may be conducted to evaluate nerve function and identify any underlying neurological issues that could be contributing to the condition.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options

Effective management of claw toe often begins with non-surgical approaches.

Modifying Footwear

In less severe cases, the foot specialist may suggest modifying footwear. Wearing shoes with a roomy toe box, low heels, and good arch support can help alleviate pressure on the toes. Shoes should have soft soles and minimal seams in the toe area. High heels and tight shoes should be avoided to prevent exacerbating the condition​​​​​.

Splints or Tapes

A foot specialist may also suggest using splits or tapes to hold the toes in a corrected position, assisting in realigning the toes.

Physical Therapy

Exercises designed to strengthen and stretch the toe muscles can help in correcting the deformity. It can help straighten the curled toes.

Protective Paddings

Using pads, arch supports, or shoe inserts can cushion the toes and reduce pressure points. This is typically suggested when the claw toe is accompanied by calluses.

Surgical Treatment Options

When non-surgical treatments are insufficient, surgical intervention may be considered.

Tendon Procedures

For flexible deformities, surgery may involve lengthening or rerouting tendons to alleviate muscle imbalance. This allows the toes to straighten.

Phalangeal Shortening

In some cases, the bones of the phalanges (toe bones) can be shortened to correct the toe’s alignment.

Temporary Pin Insertion

A steel pin might be temporarily inserted to hold the toe in the correct position until healing occurs, ensuring the toe maintains its new alignment during the recovery period.

Toe Fusion

For more severe or rigid deformities, fusing the toe joints can permanently set the toes in a straight position, preventing further bending or clawing.

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Prevention Strategies

Certain strategies can be employed to reduce the risk of developing claw toe.

  • Regular Toe Exercises - Exercises like picking up small objects or moving fabric with the toes can be beneficial for toe muscle balance.
  • Using Proper Footwear - Shoes with arch support, short heels, and a wider toe box can help reduce pressure on the toes.
  • Maintaining a Healthy Foot - Managing corns and calluses, possibly with a pumice stone, aids in maintaining foot health and may help in preventing claw toe development.
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Dr Poh Seng Yew

MBBS

MRCSEd

MMED (Ortho)

FRCSEd

With over 18 years of experience, Dr Poh Seng Yew is an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in hip, knee, shoulder and elbow surgery, sports medicine, and trauma surgery.

  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), National University of Singapore
  • Member, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (MRCSEd)
  • Master of Medicine (Orthopaedic Surgery), National University of Singapore
  • Fellow, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, FRCSEd (Orthopaedic Surgery)
  • Clinical Hip and Sports Medicine Fellow, Orthopädische Chirurgie München (OCM), Germany

 

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Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre
38 Irrawaddy Road, #08-62/63
Singapore 329563
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Weekdays: 9.00am – 5.00pm
Saturdays: 9.00am – 1.00pm
Sundays and Public Holidays: Closed

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    Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre
    38 Irrawaddy Road, #08-62/63
    Singapore 329563

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Can Claw Toes Affect Multiple Toes?

    Claw toes often affect multiple toes simultaneously, usually involving the second, third, and fourth toes. Any toe can develop this deformity, and in some cases, all toes on one or both feet may be affected, impacting walking and balance.

    What Is the Difference Between Hammer Toes and Claw Toes?

    While both are toe deformities, the main difference lies in their joint involvement. Hammer toes primarily affect the toe’s middle joint, causing it to bend downwards, while claw toes involve both the middle and end joints, creating a more pronounced claw-like appearance.

    Can You Walk with Claw Toes?

    Walking with claw toes is possible, but it may be uncomfortable or painful due to abnormal toe positioning and associated symptoms like corns and calluses. Treatment and appropriate footwear can help improve comfort and mobility.

    How Long Is the Recovery for a Claw Toe?

    Recovery time varies depending on the treatment method. Non-surgical treatments may offer gradual improvement, while surgical recovery can range from weeks to months, depending on the procedure’s complexity.

    What Happens If Claw Toe Is Left Untreated?

    Untreated claw toe can lead to complications like calluses, corns, or ulcers, especially in those with reduced sensation in their feet. The deformity may become more rigid, necessitating more complex treatment. Early intervention by a foot specialist can help prevent these complications​​.