Curly Toes

Noticing that you or your child have curly toes can be quite concerning, leaving you wondering about why your toes are curled, whether they’ll cause you any problems, and if they’re going to straighten - or if you should be seeing someone to have them treated. Our Brisbane podiatrists are experts in foot and leg health, working with a wide range of toe problems, including a range of types and causes of curled toes.

What Are Curly Toes?

When patients come to us to discuss their curly toes, there are usually two categories they fall into:

  • Those with a condition called clinodactyly, which causes one or more abnormally curled toes that are typically present at birth, and can become exacerbated as your child becomes mobile and learns to walk
  • Those with toe deformities such as hammer toes, claw toes and mallet toes. The difference between these three toe deformities, is where along the toes the curvature occurs, with different toe joints being affected in each case to produce slightly variable toe shapes. 

What Causes Curly Toes?

The cause of your curly toes will depend on what type of curly toe you have. For those with clinodactyly (pictured here), it may be associated with a growth plate on one side of a toe bone that leads to the bone growing longer on only one side, leading to the bending shape of the toe. It may also be associated with tendon tightness along the bottom of the foot that pulls down on the toe, causing it to curl. This may be genetic and passed down in families, be part of a condition like Down’s Syndrome, or be idiopathic (of unknown cause). 

We often see toe deformities as a result of:

  • Footwear: wearing shoes that are tight or narrow can cause your toes to bump against the end of the shoes, or be kept in a bent position, which can lead to the toes bending and curling over. This is a particular risk factor if you have bunions or high arches, because the space in the toe box at the front of the shoe is reduced further
  • Toe injuries: when your toes or feet are injured, curly toes are more likely to develop in the future
  • Genetics: the tendency to develop toe deformities may be passed down through families due to the inherited foot structure or foot shape
  • Arthritis: certain types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and deformities in the joints, including those in the toes, increasing the likelihood of developing curly toes
  • Muscle imbalances: imbalances in the muscles and tendons that control the movement of the toes can cause the toes to curl, leading to toe deformities like hammertoes
  • Nerve damage: nerve damage or neuropathy in the foot can lead to muscle weakness and therefore subsequent toe deformities
  • Bunions: a big or little toe deformity can lead to muscle weakness, bunching of the forefoot joints and toes, leading to deformities like mallet, hammer, and claw toes.

What Are The Symptoms Of Curly Toes?

For clinodactyly, it is often the third, fourth and fifth toes that are affected. Some people may experience some pain or discomfort resulting from the toe position, or pressure on the toes from tighter footwear, while others don’t experience any pain. As a result of rubbing or pressure on the toes, corns and callus may form, as well as blisters. Toenails may also become bruised, or may grow thicker, flatten or change shape. 

The symptoms of toe deformities are similar, with the development of blisters, corns, calluses and general discomfort being the primary symptoms. In this case, most people will start with straight, normal toes that will change shape over time as they’re exposed to the causative factors. 

Curly Toes Diagnosis

Regardless of the cause, our podiatrists can easily diagnose the presence and type of curly toes from a physical examination in our clinic. From here, we’ll be able to discuss your symptoms, treatment options and prognosis.

What Are The Risk Factors Of Leaving Curly Toes Untreated?

The greatest risk factors are ongoing pain and discomfort - such as suffering from repeated corns and blisters, as well as having difficulty finding appropriate and comfortable footwear. This can make it hard to spend long periods of time on your feet, and enjoy activities like hikes and long walks with friends and family.

Curly Toes Treatment Options

There are various management options for curly toes, and the best one for you will depend on the severity of your toe curling, the symptoms your curled toes are producing, and the underlying causes of your curled toes. We’ll discuss the best options for you on a case-by-case basis after your assessment, but your options may involve:

  • Devices like toe props, separators and splints to manage symptoms like painful rubbing from close toe proximity
  • Switching to comfortable, supportive shoes with wider toe boxes that won’t exacerbate your symptoms or worsen the problem
  • Custom foot orthotics to redistribute weight and pressure on the toes, reducing pain and discomfort while discouraging further toe curvature.
  • Stretching exercises that target any tight muscles and tendons in the feet that are pulling on the toes
  • Foot mobilisation therapy to release the joints and the soft tissue around the joints. There are some case studies with radiographic evidence of joint alignment improving
  • Periodically treating symptoms such as corns and calluses through debridement and skin care appointments
  • In severe cases, particularly where the toes are in a fixed and rigid position and your quality of life and comfort are being affected, surgery may be discussed to correct the deformity and relieve pain.

While toe deformities like hammertoes do not self-correct, it is estimated that approximately 25% of children with curly toes caused by clinodactyly may resolve spontaneously by six years old. 

Is There Anything I Can Do To Prevent Curly Toes?

As footwear is the largest preventable contributor to curly toes, the best thing you can do is always choose comfortable, supportive footwear with a good-sized toe box - while avoiding tight, narrow or high heels.

  • Always have your feet properly measured. Shoes sizes can feel very differently depending on the brand of shoes, the shoe style, and the support available inside the shoe - so always ensure it’s the right fit and measured well
  • Make sure that, while standing, there is approximately one centimetre, or half a thumb’s width of space for your longest toe at the end of each shoe
  • Buy shoes that fit the longer foot - most people have one foot that’s slightly longer than the other and don’t realise it!
  • Shop at the end of the day, when foot swelling is greatest, to account for this change during regular wear
  • Wear wider shoes with resilient soles
  • Avoid shoes with pointed toes


Is having curly toes genetic?

It can be - but not always. Some people may inherit a tendency to develop curly toes from their parents due to differences in their foot structure, shape, or muscle imbalances that affect the toes. However, other factors such as wearing tight or uncomfortable shoes, having a foot or toe injury, or certain medical conditions can also contribute to the development of curly toes.

Can a podiatrist help with curly toes?

Absolutely. Podiatrists are specialists in foot care, and help manage a wide range of problems related to the toes including curly toes.

How can I straighten my curly toes naturally?

This depends entirely on the cause of your curly toes and their severity, but you podiatrist can talk you through various natural options such as working on any tight muscles and tendons in the foot that may be causing the curling.


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Tuesday 7:30am - 6:00pm
Wednesday 7:30am - 6:30pm
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Ground Floor, 344 Queen Street,
Brisbane City QLD 4000



Monday 7:30am - 6:00pm
Tuesday 7:30am - 6:00pm
Wednesday 7:30am - 6:00pm
7:30am - 6:30pm
Friday 7:30am - 5:30pm
Saturday 7:30am - 4:30pm

Newmarket Village, 114/400 Newmarket Rd, Newmarket QLD 4051