Claw foot is so named because of the abnormal appearance of the affected foot. A patient with this condition has a deformity in which the toe joint nearest to the ankle bends upward and the other toes bend downward in a fixed contracture. A claw foot is not necessary harmful and may not require treatment, but it can cause pain, result in development of other troubling disorders, or be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Causes of Claw Foot
Claw foot may be a congenital abnormality or may be acquired later in life. At times, the precipitating or underlying condition resulting in a claw foot deformity is unknown, but the following may result in its development:
- Muscle imbalance of the feet
- Foot abnormalities, such as flat feet
- Traumatic injuries, such as fractures, to the foot
- Brain and neurological disorders
- Lesion on the spinal cord from spina bifida or polio
- Cerebral palsy
- Charcot Marie-Tooth disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Diagnosis of Claw Foot
Claw foot is most frequently diagnosed by simple physical examination. Diagnostic tests may be administered, however, to rule out other neuromuscular and spinal problems that may require different treatments. Mild cases of claw toe can usually be treated with custom-made orthotics or orthopaedic shoes, while in severe cases surgery may be necessary.
Treatment of Claw Foot
In patients with claw foot, the abnormal shape of the toe can cause other problems, worsened by the pressure of ill-fitted shoes. Because it is usually difficult to purchase shoes to accommodate claw feet, patients may have to wear custom-made orthotics, a metatarsal bar or padded insert, or orthopedic shoes in order to walk more comfortably. Without such accommodations, the pressure on the claw foot may lead to other painful conditions, such as calluses, corns, or even ulcers on the toes. Physical therapy, usually consisting of stretching exercises, may prove helpful to patients with this condition.
In cases where the claw foot continues to present a serious problem after these conservative treatments, surgery to straighten the affected toes will be considered.