The term claw toe is most likely derived from the affected toe’s similarity in appearance to the claw of an animal or talon of a bird, as shown in the image below. The talon typically curves upward before it makes a descending C-shaped curve.
People often blame the common foot deformity claw toe on wearing shoes that squeeze your toes, such as shoes that are too short or high heels. However, claw toe also is often the result of nerve damage caused by diseases like diabetes or alcoholism, which can weaken the muscles in your foot. Having claw toe means your toes “claw,” digging down into the soles of your shoes and creating painful calluses. Claw toe gets worse without treatment and may become a permanent deformity over time.
Symptoms of Claw Toe
- Your toes are bent upward (extension) from the joints at the ball of the foot.
- Your toes are bent downward (flexion) at the middle joints toward the sole of your shoe.
- Sometimes your toes also bend downward at the top joints, curling under the foot.
- Corns may develop over the top of the toe or under the ball of the foot.
Causes and Risk Factors for Claw Toe Deformity
In most cases, toe deformities are caused by a muscle imbalance in the foot. Flatfeet (pes planus), traumatic injuries, and underlying diseases may increase the risk for claw toes and hammertoes. Diseases and conditions that increase the risk include neuromuscular diseases (e.g., multiple sclerosis, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, cerebral palsy), inflammatory diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis), and diabetes.