Claw Toes and Mallet Toes


Life is all about finding the right balance. Work and leisure. Rich and poor. Happy and sad. The Chinese concept of yin and yang says these complementary forces must work together for a dynamic whole. When you look at how muscles in your feet and toes function, the concept makes sense. Disrupt the balance between opposing muscles, and you can end up with deformities like claw toes and mallet toes.

Why Your Toes Are Bent Funny

Feet and Toes on DeckMuscles don’t push—only pull. Therefore, they must work in tandem: one pulls one way, and its partner pulls the other. This happens in your toe—some pull it out straight, others curl it under. When the bottom muscles are tighter, and the top ones weaker, your toe joints can remain curled up or bent in odd positions.

This can happen for several reasons. Most often it is related to the shoe styles you wear, which is why women are more likely to get them than men. You don’t see too many guys walking around in sky-high heels with tight, pointed toes—although some cowboy boot styles might qualify. Keeping your toes cramped up in this type of shoe can cause the upper muscles to lose strength and the bottom ones to become too tight.

Diseases like diabetes or alcoholism can also be a factor, since they are often accompanied by nerve damage that causes the muscles in your feet to become weak. Other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, a stroke, or an injury in your lower limbs can also lead to toe deformities.

Problems with Bent or Curled-up Toes

First of all, your toes look funny, and no one likes that—it’s embarrassing. Claw toes bend up where they join your foot, and then the middle and end joints curl under, giving them that rounded claw-shape. Mallet toes lie fairly straight until you get to the end joint, which curves down.

Beyond that, the odd toe shapes can make it hard to fit shoes. That’s because they rub against the toe of the shoe and can cause corns on the bent-up joints, and calluses under the ball of the foot or the tip of the toe. The cramped up joints can also ache. The loss of normal function in the toes can even affect your balance and gait.

What You Should Do If Your Toes Aren’t Straight

Don’t ignore these deformities, as they will only grow worse with time. Catching and treating a problem early can keep them from getting worse. You can start by altering what you put on your feet. No tight socks or pantyhose that press on your toes. Choose roomier shoes that allow them to lie straight and support the foot correctly.

You may benefit from foam or gel pads to cushion the area, moleskin pads to protect places of friction, or toe tubes or taping that helps hold them straight. You can also try certain stretches and exercises to loosen or strengthen your toe muscles.

If you come in for an evaluation (an excellent idea!) we can also analyze your gait to see if biomechanical issues are contributing to the problem. Custom orthotics may be a way of addressing these and solving other foot problems at the same time. We can also check your circulation and nerve function, to see if there may be other underlying medical conditions involved.

Surgery for Claw Toes and Mallet Toes

Normally, conservative methods give enough relief from the condition to let you function normally. However, if the bent toe is very stiff, rigid, and painful, and doesn’t seem to get better, we may recommend correcting it surgically to help your foot work the way it should.

There are a variety of procedures depending on your particular circumstances, and our expert podiatric surgeons will discuss which may be best for you. It may involve removing part of a bone, fusing a joint, moving tendons or cutting soft tissue, or inserting a toe implant.

Call Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center at (303) 423-2520 for an appointment at our office in Wheat Ridge, Golden, Evergreen, or Granby, CO today and get help for your curled toes.

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