Crooked toes are a common health problem among Americans, and there are several crooked toe syndromes. What kind of crooked toe problem you have depends on the degree and direction of deviation in your affected toe’s joints. In some cases, your abnormal toe position is not permanent, and your toe may be realigned using conservative care techniques. Crooked toes are extremely rare in shoeless populations or groups of people who do not wear conventional footwear.
Possible types of crooked toes include:
Hammertoe: A hammertoe is a crooked toe that is flexed more than it should be at your first toe joint, or proximal interphalangeal joint. Hammertoes may affect any of your 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 appropriately.
Claw toe: A claw toe is a crooked toe that is flexed more than it should be at both your first (proximal interphalangeal) and second (distal interphalangeal) toe joints. If you have a claw toe, your involved toe may dig into the soles of your shoes, causing painful calluses to develop. This crooked toe problem usually gets worse without treatment and may cause irreversible deformities over time.
Mallet toe: A mallet toe is a crooked toe that is flexed at your last toe joint (distal interphalangeal joint) only. The rest of your toe is straight. Mallet toe is commonly caused by shoes that are too tight in the toe box or shoes that possess high heels. The forces these shoes place on your feet cause unnatural bending of your toes.
Adductovarus toe: Adductovarus toe is a crooked toe that tries to move under its adjacent toe. This toe problem is commonly seen in your 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 most shoe-wearing people. Unshod individuals—people who do not wear shoes or conventional footwear—do not experience this health problem.
Curly toe: Curly toe is a crooked toe in which the most distal part of your toe—the toe segment located furthest away from your body—is flexed and curved to one side of your foot. Curly toes may be particularly common in newborns, and most curly toes spontaneously resolve before age six. In some cases, however, curly toes may cause pressure symptoms in shoe-wearing individuals later in life.
Causes and Symptoms
Inappropriate footwear is the leading cause of crooked toes. Footwear that possesses heel elevation, rigid soles, tapering toe boxes, and toe-spring may force your toes into unusual positions and encourage muscle or tendon imbalances in your feet and lower extremities. 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.
Some of the most frequently experienced symptoms associated with crooked toes include:
- Toe pain or irritation when wearing shoes
- A thickening of the skin between your toes, on the ball of your foot, or elsewhere
- A burning sensation in your affected toe
- Inflammation and redness
- Toe contracture, or permanent toe shortening
- Open sores