Claw toes can be something that a child is born with (congenital), or it can develop later in life because of other disorders (acquired). Claw toes may be caused by a problem with the nerves in the leg or from a spinal cord problem. Many cases have an unknown cause.
Claw toes are not usually dangerous, but they may be the first sign of a more serious disease of the nervous system.
Patients may notice pain and calluses forming on the top of the toe over the first joint, but the problem may also be painless. There may be problems wearing shoes.
If you think you are developing claw toes, you should contact your health care provider for an evaluation.
What to expect at your health care provider's office
The health care provider will perform a physical examination, and check for muscle, nerve, and spine problems. The physical examination will probably include extra attention to the feet and hands.
You will be asked questions about your medical history and symptoms. Questions may include:
When did you first notice this?
Is it getting worse?
Does it affect both feet?
Do other symptoms occur at the same time?
Do you have any abnormal sensation in your feet?
Special shoes may be recommended to relieve pressure. The abnormal shape of the toe can cause increased pressure and calluses or ulcers on the affected toes. Claw toes can also be treated surgically.
Wang D. Claw toe. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2008:chap 78.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.