If you’re wondering why your toes are curling down, you can probably blame your shoes (we're talking to you, high-heeled-loving ladies). Wearing shoes that don’t fit well is a common cause of toe curling, but toe curling can also be a sign of some other serious medical conditions. So, if your toes are curling, it’s important to figure out why. Without proper treatment, you can have pain when you walk, and your toes can permanently stay curled under.
Here’s more on symptoms, treatments and what you need to know to stay on your toes.
Toe curling conditions
The most common types include:
- Hammertoe: When one of your toe muscles becomes weak, it can cause the middle joint of your toe to bend downward. This puts pressure on the toe's tendons and joints, forcing the toe to become misshapen and stick up at the joint. Oftentimes, a corn or callus forms on top of the deformed toe. Hammertoe typically occurs in your second, third and fourth toes.
- Claw toe: Your toes make a claw shape because the joint at the base of the toe bends up and the other two joints bend down. That makes your toe curl and dig into your shoes' soles. You may have painful calluses or corns. Claw toe worsens without treatment and may become permanent over time.
- Mallet toe: Your toe bends down at the joint closest to the nail (the joint that is at the end of the toe). It often happens in your second, third and fourth toes. Typically, though, it happens in the second toe since it's usually the longest. The skin near the toenail tip develops a painful corn, which can eventually lead to an ulcer. You may have corns or calluses or redness and swelling in the affected toe.
Causes of toe curling
- Wearing high heels or shoes that are too tight can cause your toes to become crowded. That forces them into a bent position and puts pressure on the toes and joints, which can cause toes to curl under. Muscles tighten and shorten after a while. Soon, you can't straighten your toes.
- Health conditions like diabetes and arthritis or certain neurological disorders can also cause toes to curl down.
- Certain foot shapes can also predispose you to developing joint deformities. For example, a flat flexible foot can lead to hammertoes, as can high arches.
How to fix curled toes
- If you catch a toe condition at an early stage, your healthcare provider (HCP) may suggest you use tape or a splint to hold them in the correct position. You may also want to stretch your toes and toe joints toward their normal position with your hands. Try exercises like using your toes to pick up a crumpled paper towel or marbles on the floor.
- Wear shoes with roomy, soft toe boxes. Shoes should have a wider and deeper toe box to accommodate your foot's shape. Look for ones with good arch support, too. Avoid high heels and tight shoes.
- If you have a corn or callus caused by your condition, use a file or pumice stone to make it smaller. Do it after a warm bath when your skin is softest. Then apply a moisturizing cream or lotion to keep the area soft.
If your toes are curling down, talk to your HCP about your symptoms and treatment options so you can put your best foot forward — comfortably.