Want to learn how to fix curled toes long-term?
You’re about to learn the 5 best treatments for curled toes — and one stands far above the rest. (Pun intended.)
Before we dig in, it’s important to understand the causes of curled toes so that you can choose the best treatment for you.
Causes for Curled Toes
Curled toe, or claw toe, is a symptom of spasticity in your feet and toes. It’s the result of miscommunication between your brain and your muscles.
The muscles in your foot are over-contracting – often due to the neurological impact of stroke – and this causes your toes to curl when you don’t want them to.
Curled toes can occur at unpredictable stages, ranging anywhere from a few months to several years post stroke.
This condition can make walking painful. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that you can consider to help alleviate curled toes.
Treatment for Curled Toes
From least invasive to most, these treatment options can help fix curled toes.
1. Rehab Exercises for Curled Toes
Therapeutic exercise for curled toes is the most noninvasive and effective treatment available!
Rehab exercises for curled toes help retrain and rewire the brain through neuroplasticity.
As the brain relearns to control the muscles in your feet, the spasticity will begin to subside. The muscles in your feet will begin to “hear” the commands from your brain to contract and relax!
Since neuroplasticity is activated by repetition, the more you exercise your foot muscles, the more relaxed curled toes will become.
Find some curled toes exercises (like the ones we list below!) and do them daily for the best results.
2. Botox for Curled Toes
Botox is the only FDA-approved treatment for upper limb spasticity after stroke.
However, many survivors seen improvement in their curled toes with Botox, so talk to your doctor about this option.
Botox is only a temporary treatment, though. Relief only lasts for a few months, so it’s best to use Botox as temporary relief while you see long-term relief through rehab exercise!
3. Ankle Foot Orthotics or Toe Separators
While you work on reducing curled toes through rehab exercise, you may want a short-term solution to improve your gait (manner of walking).
Toe separators or shoe inserts called ankle foot orthotics can help realign curling toes in the meantime.
For curled toes, you should look for AFO’s that have built in toe crests and metatarsal pads. This will help reduce pain and increase comfort.
If your budget is limited, then minimalist toe separators can suffice.
AFO’s can also be used for foot drop, a condition that may accompany curled toes where you can’t properly lift the front part of your foot.
4. TENS Therapy
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation therapy (i.e. TENS therapy) involves electrical stimulation to your nerves and muscles.
TENS therapy works by getting your muscles to contract, which makes your brain aware of the muscle contractions. This helps “spark” the mind-muscle communication.
Electrical stimulation works best when you combine it with rehab exercise. So if you choose this option, be sure to pair it with the curled toes exercises below for the best results.
In extremely painful cases, you can have surgery to cut the tightened tendons in your feet to relieve curled toes.
Exercises for Curled Toes
The best treatment for curled toes is to rewire the brain with rehab exercises.
The exercises for curled toes below will help — but it might feel weird at first. Some of them require you to curl your toes even more, which you might not want to do.
However, using those muscles is how you will regain control of them, so trust the work. Here are some simple exercises to start with:
- Toe Taps. Attempt to raise all your toes up off the ground and then place them back down. Repeat 10 times. It’s okay if you can’t move your toes very much yet. As long as you attempt to make the movement, you will initiate healing in the brain.
- Floor Grips. With your feet flat on the floor, attempt to grip the floor by curling your toes, and then release as best you can. Repeat 10 times.
- Finger Squeezes. Cross your foot over your knee and place a finger in between your big and second toes. Then, squeeze your toes together to pinch your finger as hard as you can (without hurting yourself, of course). Release, and repeat 10 times.
- Toe Extensor Strengthening. Cross your foot over your knee so that you’re sitting cross-legged. Then, place a resistance band around the top of your foot to pull your toes back toward your body, like so:
Then, use your foot to push the resistance band away from your body. Return to center and repeat 10 times.
This will be very difficult in the beginning, so remember: as long as you attempt to make the movement, you’re stimulating healing in the brain.
Bonus: Download our free Rehab Exercises ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)
Tips for Living with Curled Toes
It takes time to rewire the brain with rehab exercises for curled toes, so be patient. As long as you put in the reps, the brain will work hard to reward your hard work!
In the meantime, here are some tips to help you out:
- Stretch your toes to keep the tendons as lengthened as you can. Avoid this if it’s too painful, but once those tendons shorten, it’s hard to reverse.
- Try some toe separators when you’re at home. Yes, the cheap foam beauty salon tools that you use to keep your toes separated while manicuring. Using toe separators can help reduce the pain of curled toes.
- Use toe cushions in your shoes when you’re out and about. Toe cushions are like little pillows for your toes that comfortably go inside your shoes and reduce the pain.
- Get a pair of magnetic gel insoles. They helped stroke survivor James Pribish reduce his curled toes. You can also cut the gel insoles up to protect your toes from painfully rubbing around in your shoes.
It’s possible that curled toes can go away on their own in time — a phenomenon known as spontaneous recovery.
However, you can take an active role in your recovery by experimenting with these various treatments for curled toes (with your therapists approval, of course).
And there you have it! These are the best ways to fix curled toes.