Exercises to Help Fix Curled Toes After Stroke

Henry Hoffman
Monday, March 4th, 2019
Last modified on July 28th, 2022

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Experiencing a stroke can have a huge impact on the human body. The side effects and complications of stroke are myriad, including weakness or paralysis, inability to speak, vision problems, and fatigue, among others. There is almost no part of the body that is completely immune to the effects of a stroke. One important body part often impacted by the degenerative neuromuscular effect of stroke is the foot, specifically the toes. Many patients experience conditions such as claw toe, drop foot and dorsiflexion after stroke.

What Is Claw Toe?

Claw toe is a condition that sounds just like its name: someone suffering from claw toe experiences toes that are bent into a shape like a bird’s claw. The affected toe is bent upward from the joint at the ball of the foot, and downward at the joints in the middle and tip of the toe, causing the toe to curl under the foot. This typically happens with the four small toes on the foot, but not the big toe. Claw toe can be a painful condition in its own right, but even in cases with no toe pain, survivors can suffer callouses from the toe knuckles rubbing against footwear, or from increased friction on the heel.

What Can Cause Claw Toe?

Many people find themselves with claw toes, but the underlying causes can vary widely.


The nerve and muscle damage caused by a stroke can impact the foot and toes. The damage can present as over-contracting of toes and spasticity, a condition marked by loss of control over the voluntary movement of certain muscles.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders can cause healthy tissues in a person’s joints to become inflamed. Over time, this inflammatory process can erode and destroy the joints, including those in the feet.

Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a congenital disorder that affects movement and muscle tone, appearing as muscles that are either too loose or too stiff. Cerebral palsy can affect multiple parts of the body, including but not limited to the toes.


Diabetes, a condition closely associated with stroke risk, can cause nerve damage. This nerve damage, often referred to as diabetic neuropathy, can occur in the arms or hands, legs, and most commonly, the feet.

How to Treat Claw Toe

  1. Wearing shoes that are not too tight
    Wearing shoes that have roomy toe boxes, low heels, and good arch supports can not only provide better comfort, but decrease the likelihood of a potential fall.
  2. Wider is Better
    Wearing shoes that offer increased width and depth, with soft soles and minimal seams  in the toe box can increase overall comfort
  1. Strengthening and stretching
    Exercising the toe muscles can help to decrease joint deformities.
  1. Botox
    Botox is the only FDA-approved treatment for upper limb spasticity after stroke. However, many survivors have seen improvement in their curled toes with Botox, so talk to your doctor about this option.
  1. Foot Orthotics
    Toe separators or shoe inserts can help to realign curling toes. If a stroke survivor wears an ankle foot orthosis (AFO), it is recommended it have a built-in toe crest to increase comfort.
  1. Surgery
    In more extreme cases, surgery may be recommended to cut the tightened tendons to alleviate the curling of the toes.


A Step in the Right Direction

Claw toes can be a painful post-stroke condition, but they’re a common problem, and there are steps you can take to fix them. By exercising your feet and toes, you can help relieve the discomfort and get your feet back on the path to recovering their pre-stroke form. Here at Saebo, we are committed to stroke support and recovery for all survivors and their families. Saebo offers a wide range of products that combine cutting-edge technology with evidence-based rehabilitation techniques. Our offerings and network of Saebo-trained therapists can help you or a loved one to obtain all the necessary tools to maximize stroke recovery.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.

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