Crooked Toes: A collection of conditions characterized by bent toes.
Information About Crooked Toes, Curved Toes & Bent Toes
Crooked toes are a common health problem, and there are several different types of crooked toes possible. The specific type of crooked toe a person may develop depends on the degree and direction of deviation in the affected toe’s joints. In some cases, the abnormal toe alignment is not permanent, and the toe may be realigned using natural rehabilitative techniques. Note: Crooked toes, curved toes, and bent toes are extremely rare in shoeless populations or in groups of people who do not wear conventional footwear, with its many injurious design features.
Types of crooked toes include:
Hammertoe: A hammertoe is a crooked toe that is flexed to an abnormal degree at the first toe joint, or proximal interphalangeal joint. Hammertoes may occur in any of the toes, and they often begin as mild deformities and become more severe over time. Hammertoes are usually flexible in the initial stages but may become rigid if they are not treated in an appropriate and timely manner.
Claw Toe: A claw toe is a crooked toe that is flexed to an abnormal degree at both the first (proximal interphalangeal) and second (distal interphalangeal) toe joints. It’s common for claw toes to dig into the soles of shoes, causing painful calluses to develop. This crooked toe problem usually gets worse without treatment and may lead to irreversible deformities over time.
Mallet Toe: A mallet toe is a crooked toe that is flexed to an abnormal degree at the last toe joint (distal interphalangeal joint) only. The rest of the toe is straight. Mallet toe is commonly caused by shoes that possess toe box taper and heel elevation. The forces that these shoe design elements place on the forefoot cause unnatural cramping and bending of the toes.
Adductovarus Toe: Adductovarus toe is a crooked toe that has moved under an adjacent toe. This toe problem is commonly seen in the fourth and fifth toes, and it is a direct result of wearing shoes with tapering toe boxes. This condition is seen, to some degree, in many shoe-wearing people. Unshod individuals—people who do not wear shoes or conventional footwear—rarely experience this toe problem.
Overlapping Toe: Overlapping toe is a condition in which one of the toes turns inward and lies on top of an adjacent toe. The second and fifth toes are the ones most commonly affected by this type of crooked toe. If the second toe overlies the big toe, this can cause rubbing inside the shoe, which in turn may cause wounds or sores to develop on the second toe.
Curly Toe: Curly toe is a crooked toe in which the most distal part of the toe—the toe segment located farthest away from the body—is flexed and curved to one side of the foot. Curly toes may be particularly common in newborns, and most curly toes spontaneously resolve before age six. In some cases, curly toes may cause pressure-related symptoms in shoe-wearing individuals later in life.
Signs & Symptoms of Crooked Toes
Some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with crooked toes, curved toes, and bent toes include:
Inflammation and redness
A burning sensation in the affected toe
Toe pain or irritation when wearing shoes
Toe contracture, or permanent toe shortening
A thickening of the skin between the toes, on the ball of the foot, or elsewhere
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Inappropriate footwear is one of the leading causes of crooked toes. Shoes that possesses heel elevation, rigid soles, tapering toe boxes, and toe spring force the toes into an unnatural configuration and encourage muscle and tendon imbalances in the foot and lower leg. In some cases, crooked toes may be associated with past foot trauma. Genetics may play a role in this health problem in some individuals too.
How to Straighten & Prevent Crooked Toes, Curved Toes & Bent Toes
A toe spacing product, such as Correct Toes, is a powerful tool that can be worn inside men's and women's foot-healthy shoes, over toe socks, or on bare feet to help realign the toes in their correct anatomical position, strengthen the muscles and tendons that attach to the toes, and increase the stability of the forefoot. Getting the toes spread back out—to the position that nature intended—is fundamental in addressing and preventing all types of crooked toes.
Another major consideration in straightening out the toes involves adopting and using foot-healthy footwear that allows the foot to function like a bare foot inside the shoe. Conventional shoes, including most running shoes, will hasten the progression of a crooked toe, as the design elements included in most conventional models create an imbalance in the foot flexor and extensor muscles and tendons, as well as an imbalance in the four layers of muscles (aka intrinsic muscles) within the foot. Intrinsic foot muscles help stabilize the toes during walking and standing.
Check out our men's and women's foot-healthy footwear options. All models are Correct Toes compatible to enable the best possible toe splay.
Another helpful item in straightening crooked toes, curved toes, and bent toes is a metatarsal pad. This soft and unobtrusive pad sits just behind the ball of the foot and helps bring the toes back down toward the ground. Combined with toe socks, toe spacers, and foot-healthy footwear, metatarsal pads can produce positive changes in toe alignment. There are two distinct types of metatarsal pads: Stationary (i.e., fixed in the shoe) and mobile (i.e., can be worn on the foot in almost any pair of shoes).
Individuals who experience any of the above-mentioned crooked toe syndromes should consider visiting a naturally-minded podiatrist or other appropriate foot care professional or scheduling a remote consultation with the foot care professionals at Northwest Foot & Ankle (this is the clinic of Dr. Ray McClanahan, inventor of Correct Toes). A physician can offer additional strategies to help correct or reduce the progression of the crooked toe problem. The longer the crooked toe problem exists, the greater the likelihood it will become permanently rigid and require more extensive—and invasive—treatment, such as surgery.
Surgery, when required, is used to help straighten the crooked toe and balance the pull of tendons surrounding the affected toe joint(s). Pins or wires are sometimes required to keep the toe in its correct position while it is healing. Please note that surgery may not provide a complete correction of the crooked toe and that the problem may recur if a person continues to use the same footwear that contributed to the condition in the first place. Please see our article that lists six ways to restore foot health after surgery for more info on this topic.
Suffering from crooked toes? Sign up for our FREE email course to learn more about this condition as well as natural strategies to help address or prevent crooked toes. View our course list here.
Dr. Robyn Hughes is a naturopathic physician, or ND, with a special interest in natural foot health and sports medicine. After completing medical school at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Robyn trained extensively with renowned sports podiatrist and natural foot care specialist, Dr. Ray McClanahan. Dr. Robyn is the Director of Medical Education for Correct Toes, a co-founder of NaturalFootgear.com, a freelance health writer, and a regular speaker at foot care teaching events. Dr. Robyn lives in Asheville, NC, where she’s an avid road cyclist, trail runner, and yoga student.
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