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An Overview of Claw Toe

Claw toe is a type of digital deformity of the foot. This condition occurs when there is flexion at the middle and end toe joints and extension at the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP) joint, causing the toes to bend downward and curl. This makes your toes look like claws. Often, one or more of the four small toes is affected. People who develop claw toes often have a higher foot arch or an imbalanced pull from muscles in the foot. Metatarsalgia (ball of foot pain) is a common side effect, because pressure is applied to the ball of the foot as the toes retract and claw.

Causes of Claw Toe

  • Improper footwear – shoes that are too short or narrow can squeeze the toes
  • Nerve damage – diseases such as diabetes or Charcot-Marie-Tooth can weaken the muscles in the foot, causing imbalances that force your toes to bend
  • Trauma or injury to the toes
  • Inflammation – disorders like rheumatoid arthritis can cause your immune system to attack healthy joint tissues, leaving your joints inflamed and prone to deformities

Claw Toe Symptoms

  • Toes bend downward (flexion) at the middle joint
  • Corns (hard, thickened areas of skin) or calluses develop under the ball of the foot or at the top of the toe
  • Loss of toe flexibility
  • Swelling and/or redness of the toes
  • Metatarsalgia (ball of foot pain)

How is Claw Toe Diagnosed?

Your doctor will conduct a physical exam to evaluate the rigidity and angulation of the toes. Imaging test, such as x-rays, may also be used to determine the extent of your condition, any related damage, and help define the best course of treatment.

It is important to seek treatment as soon as you notice symptoms. If left untreated, the affected toes may become inflexible and significantly impact the ability to walk and run without pain.


Claw toe is initially treated with a conservative approach. Non-surgical methods include wearing a splint, taping the affect toes to hold them in the correct position, and/or wearing shoe inserts to relieve pressure on the ball of your foot.  Tight shoes are typically advised against.

A surgical approach may be necessary for severe, rigid cases of claw toe. Procedures may include shortening the bone located at the toe’s base and straightening the bones in the affected toes, inserting a temporary wire or pin to hold the toes in the correct position while they heal over the course of six to eight weeks, tendon lengthening and rerouting, or toe fusion. There are outpatient surgeries, meaning that you won’t have to stay overnight in the hospital and may return home the same day.


Schedule an appointment

If you are experiencing symptoms of claw toe, Raleigh Orthopaedic has foot and ankle specialists and a podiatrist who are committed to helping you achieve a full and speedy recovery. Once we’ve examined your injury, we will create a personalized treatment plan and answer any questions you may have along the way. Click here or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists.

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The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your h

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