Do you find yourself hiding your feet in closed-toe shoes everywhere you go, even in your own home? You should never be ashamed of crooked toes; most women develop them over time due to tight-fitting shoes. But high heels aren’t the only culprit — many sneakers and flats have narrow toe boxes, which can cause each toe’s shape and position to change and conform to the small space.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get rid of crooked toes for aesthetic reasons alone. However, fixing bent toes isn’t just about aesthetics — it’s about eliminating chronic foot pain and improving your balance and gait, so that you can walk normally and enjoy everyday activities. There are four main methods for treating bent toes: wider shoes, stretches and exercises, toe spacers, and (if all else fails), surgery. Find out which solution is best for you with the below guide.
Types of Crooked Toes
In order to reduce the appearance of crooked toes, you must first determine what type of condition you have. There are five main types: hammertoe, claw toe, mallet toe, adductovarus toe, and overlapping toe. Below, learn more about each type, including possible causes and treatment methods.
Possible Causes: Poor-fitting shoes, injury, rheumatoid arthritis, genetics
Description: A hammertoe is any toe that has a bend at the PIP joint — the joint closest to the ball of the foot. (For clarity, the PIP joint is the proximal interphalangeal joint.) Any toe can become a hammertoe, though it’s most common in the second, third, and fourth toes. In the early stages, hammertoes still have some flexion, but they eventually become too rigid to move. This causes inner foot pain, along with corns, blisters, and calluses where the bottom and top of the toe rub unnaturally on the inside of shoes.
Treatment: For early cases, podiatrists recommend switching to shoes that have a wider toe box, along with stretching and strengthening exercises. For hammertoes caused by deformed bones or injuries, doctors may recommend surgery.
2. Claw Toe
Possible Causes: Poor-fitting shoes, injury, nerve damage, genetics, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, polio, cerebral palsy, stroke, spinal cord tumors, Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (which causes nerve damage)
Description: A claw toe is any toe except the big toe that’s curved into a claw-like shape. The toe is bent at both joints — it bends upward from the ball of the foot to the middle toe joint, and downward from the middle joint to the toenail. In more extreme cases, one or more toes may bend so far downward from the middle joint that they curl beneath the foot.
Treatment: In the early to middle stages, podiatrists usually prescribe stretching and strengthening exercises. As the toes become more rigid, doctors may prescribe splints, and if they become too rigid, surgery. Surgeries usually involve re-routing or lengthening your tendons, shortening certain bones, or inserting a steel pin in each toe to keep it straight.
3. Mallet Toe
Possible Causes: Poor-fitting shoes, injury, arthritis, bone-y buildup, weak toe muscles
Description: Mallet toe describes a curve at the very end of a toe (in the last joint before the nail). It usually occurs in the second toe, and it happens when the flexor digitorum longus (FDL) — a deep muscle at the back of the calf that helps you flex all four of your smaller toes — becomes too tight. The condition starts small, with only a slight bend at the end of the second toe, but if it isn’t treated with the right shoes and exercises, it can become permanently rigid. Mallet toes are often very painful, and cause corns or blisters that make it hard to walk with a normal gait.
Treatment: In the early stages (and if an injury didn’t cause the mallet toe), podiatrists recommend stretching and strengthening exercises for the feet and calves, and switching to shoes with wider toe boxes. In extreme cases, doctors may choose to perform surgery.
4. Adductovarus Toe
Possible Causes: Poor-fitting shoes
Description: Adductovarus toe is a term that describes one toe bending in toward the middle of the foot, sometimes resting underneath another. This is very common, and it usually happens in the fifth and fourth toes because of tight-fitting shoes.
Treatment: Usually, adductovarus toes are mild and don’t require major treatment. But they can become uncomfortable and cause discomfort and calluses. The good news: If you have these types of crooked toes, you can correct them at home with stretches, strengthening exercises, and toe spacers.
5. Overlapping Toe
Possible Causes: Poor-fitting shoes, already-existing hammertoes or bunions, genetics
Description: Similar to adductovarus toes, overlapping toes are those that sit on top of other toes. (The second and fifth toes are the most likely to become overlapping toes.) This usually happens when the big toe and three outer toes get squished inward by tight-fitting shoes, causing the second or fifth toe to pop up to make room.
Treatment: If overlapping toes are mild (and caused by tight shoes), podiatrists will recommend shoes with a wide toe box, stretching and strengthening exercises, and toe spacers. More severe cases may require surgery.
How To Get Rid of Crooked Toes
If your toes aren’t yet rigid and your podiatrist recommends stretching and strengthening exercises, the following movements can help reverse crooked toes — as long as you work on them every day. Just make sure you get your podiatrist’s okay before practicing.
1. Hammertoe Stretch
Great for: All crooked toe types
To do: Sit in a chair and bring your right foot up onto your left knee. Use your left hand to push down on top of all five toes, causing the foot to curve in a sickle shape. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds (or as long as you feel comfortable), rest, and repeat. Repeat the whole sequence on the left foot (lifting it up onto your right knee).
2. Hammertoe Flex
Great for: All crooked toe types, especially hammertoes
To do: Sit in a chair and bring your right foot up onto your left knee. Use your hand to pull all five toes up toward you. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, rest, and repeat. Repeat the whole sequence on the left foot (lifting it up onto your right knee).
3. Handshake Stretch
Great for: All crooked toe types, especially overlapping toes
To do: Sit in a chair and bring your right foot up onto your left knee. Using your opposite hand, interlace the fingers of your left hand with your toes, like a handshake. (Your thumb should hook around the front of your big toe.) Hold for 30 seconds, and release. Repeat twice. Repeat the whole sequence on the left foot (lifting it up onto your right knee).
4. Toe Lift and Flex
Great for: All crooked toe types
To do: Rest your right foot on the ground. Lift all five toes off the ground, without lifting any other part of your foot. Hold for a second, stretching your toes to the sides, then relax. Lift and lower your toes 10 times. Repeat on the left foot. (You can also lift and flex all 10 toes at the same time, though doing it separately allows you to see differences in your feet, which you can report to your podiatrist.)
5. Toe Lift and Flex With a Rubber Band
Great for: All crooked toe types
To do: Place a rubber band around your toes on your right foot. Lift all five toes off the ground, without lifting any other part of your foot. Hold for a second, stretching the rubber band as much as possible, then relax. Repeat 10 times, then repeat the whole sequence on the left foot.
6. Calf Stretch
Great for: mallet and claw toes
To do: Stand next to a wall. Place your toes up on the bottom of the wall, with your heel touching the floor. Gently lean forward. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, relax, and repeat. Repeat the whole sequence on the other foot.
There is another way to eliminate crooked toes that aren’t yet rigid, especially adductovarus and overlapping toes: toe spacers. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill foam spacers designed for pedicures. Instead, they’re made of flexible silicone. We recommend Correct Toes (Buy from Correct Toes, $65), which can be worn barefoot, over socks, and inside shoes. For a less expensive set, try YOGABODY Naturals Toe Spreaders (Buy from Amazon, $22.95).
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to getting rid of crooked toes. Yet a comprehensive treatment plan involving the right exercises, shoes, and medical advice from a podiatrist should help set you on the right foot.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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