What Is Claw Foot?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 05, 2022
4 min read

Claw foot is sometimes called claw toe or hammertoe. It is a condition where your toes are bent into a claw shape. You may be born with claw foot or you may develop it later in life. 

Here’s what you need to know about how it can affect your health.

Many types of claw foot are connected to damage to your feet. Your toes may curl to compensate and help you balance if the nerves or muscles in your feet are injured. This curl can become permanent over time

Other reasons you may develop claw toes include:

Injuries and surgery. Any type of foot or ankle surgery can damage the nerves in that area. Traumatic injuries to your legs, feet, and ankles can also cause muscle damage and nerve injuries.

Diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to nerve damage in your feet. People with uncontrolled diabetes may experience foot numbness along with curling toes. High insulin levels can damage their extremities.

Rheumatoid arthritis. This is an autoimmune condition that can cause your immune system to attack your joints. It can weaken your muscles and deform your toe joints over time.

Cerebral palsy. This condition leads to irregular muscle tone. People with cerebral palsy have muscles that are too loose or too stiff. This can cause claw foot as your toe muscles stiffen to compensate for loose foot muscles.

Stroke. A stroke can make it harder for you to control muscles throughout your body. This includes your feet and legs. Your toes may curl to help you balance.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. This genetic disorder affects your nervous system. It makes it harder for you to control your legs and feet. One of the first signs of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is weakness in your legs and foot deformities like claw toes.

Most cases of claw foot are not dangerous. But it can be uncomfortable or painful to walk when your toes are curled into a claw shape. You may also have a harder time finding shoes that fit.

It’s important to treat claw foot early. It’s possible to prevent claw foot from getting worse while your toes are still flexible. They may stiffen and become “stuck” in a permanent claw shape without treatment. 

Talk to your doctor about treatments to keep your toes flexible and handle the underlying causes of your claw foot.

Your doctor may recommend one of several treatments if you notice that you’re developing claw toes. The goal of these treatments is to keep your foot flexible to help you walk and move comfortably.

Common treatments include:

Taping your toes. This simple solution keeps your toes straight if they’re just beginning to curl. Taping your toes keeps them in the right position and can help you reverse mild curling.

Wearing a splint. A splint can help keep your toes straight if they are curled but still flexible. Splints are firmer than tape. So they're more effective at reversing significant claw toes.

Treat underlying conditions. Your doctor will recommend treatments for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes. This can help prevent claw feet from getting worse.

Surgery. You might need surgery to lengthen your toe tendons or shorten toe bones if your claw foot is severe. This will permit your toes to straighten again.‌

For many people, preventing claw foot in the first place is easier than treating it. Here are several things that can protect your feet if you’re concerned about claw toes.

Manage diabetes. One of the best things you can do for your health if you have diabetes is to control your blood sugar. Keeping your diabetes controlled can help you avoid nerve damage in your feet. This can keep your toes from curling.

Wear comfortable shoes. Wearing high heels or shoes that are too tight can make your claw foot worse. Wear shoes with plenty of room at the toe and avoid any shoe that puts a lot of pressure on the ball of your foot.

Use claw foot orthotics. Your doctor may recommend that you use gel pads or other orthotics in your shoes. These inserts help keep pressure off your toes and the ball of your foot. This lets your feet relax, which can help keep claw toes from developing or getting worse.

Exercise and stretch your toes. Strengthening your toes and stretching your tendons can help you keep them flexible. Gently stretching your toes out straight and picking up objects with your toes can help reduce the effects of claw foot and nerve damage.