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Pes cavus

Medical Professionals

Professional Reference articles are designed for health professionals to use. They are written by UK doctors and based on research evidence, UK and European Guidelines. You may find one of our health articles more useful.

Synonym: claw foot

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What is pes cavus?

Pes cavus is a deformity of the foot which has a very high arch and is relatively stiff. This deformity does not flatten on weight bearing.

A high arch with a medially angulated heel is called pes cavovarus. When this is complicated by foot drop and equinus of the ankle, this is called pes equinocavovarus.

In cases where the primary deformity is excessive ankle and hindfoot dorsiflexion, it is called pes calcaneovarus.

Pes cavus aetiology1

This condition is caused by an imbalance between the agonist and antagonist muscles in the foot. There is often family history and it is usually bilateral.

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Pes cavus symptoms (presentation)

Patients often complain of pain, instability, difficulty walking or running and also problems with footwear.

There is often a range of other foot deformities also present - eg, claw toes, increased calcaneal angle.


These vary with degree of deformity:

  • Pain in the side of the foot and the metatarsals.

  • Calluses on the plantar aspect of the foot.

  • Instability of the ankle.

Neuropathies may be accompanied by neuropathic pain. With progression, deformity and rigidity become more severe. This can lead to overload of the lateral side of the foot and even to stress fractures of the fifth metatarsal.

Peroneal tendinopathy, Achilles tendon disorders, plantar fasciitis and ankle impingement are more common.

NB: a spinal tumour should be suspected in any patient with new unilateral presentation, without previous trauma.


  • Foot shape is best observed when the patient is standing.

  • Inspect shoes for signs of abnormal wear.

  • Observe gait for varus or foot drop.

  • Passive movements should be assessed to look for any joint contractures.

  • Perform neurological examination for a possible underlying cause.


Take a full family history. It is very important to establish whether there is an underlying neurological diagnosis and whether this is progressive or static. Neurological symptoms, such as sensory changes, weakness and clumsiness may be present. Back pain or headaches may signify a central cause.

  • X-ray of foot (weight-bearing).

  • MRI scan of the spine if a tumour is suspected.

  • Electromyography and nerve conduction tests may be indicated for some patients.

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Pes cavus treatment and management3

The aim of treatment is to preserve a painless and mobile foot. The management of pes cavus depends on the aetiology, rapidity of progression and also the severity of the symptoms.4 The risk of progression during childhood can be reduced by appropriate conservative treatment.

General measures

  • Non-surgical treatment should be instituted early by orthotists and podiatrists.

  • Physiotherapy to loosen tight muscles and improve strength of weak ones.

  • Padding and orthotic shoes.

  • Splints or appliances can be used for some patients.5

  • A caliper may be given to patients with very severe deformity and refractory ankle instability.

Surgical measures

  • Surgery is usually only justified when deformity is so pronounced or progressive that symptoms are intrusive and unresponsive to conservative treatments.6

  • The aims of surgery are to:

    • Correct deformity.

    • Relieve pain and preserve joint motion if possible.

    • Re-balance muscle forces to aid gait and prevent progression of deformity.

  • Depending on the nature of the deformity, procedures can be release of plantar fascia, tendon transfer, osteotomy (calcaneal or first metatarsal) and arthrodesis.4

  • Many patients need several operations.

Further reading and references

  • Pes cavus, Wheeless' Textbook of Orthopaedics
  • Mary P, Servais L, Vialle R; Neuromuscular diseases: Diagnosis and management. Orthop Traumatol Surg Res. 2018 Feb;104(1S):S89-S95. doi: 10.1016/j.otsr.2017.04.019. Epub 2017 Nov 28.
  1. Seaman TJ, Ball TA; Pes Cavus.
  2. Qin B, Wu S, Zhang H; Evaluation and Management of Cavus Foot in Adults: A Narrative Review. J Clin Med. 2022 Jun 26;11(13):3679. doi: 10.3390/jcm11133679.
  3. Sanpera I, Villafranca-Solano S, Munoz-Lopez C, et al; How to manage pes cavus in children and adolescents? EFORT Open Rev. 2021 Jun 28;6(6):510-517. doi: 10.1302/2058-5241.6.210021. eCollection 2021 Jun.
  4. Maynou C, Szymanski C, Thiounn A; The adult cavus foot. EFORT Open Rev. 2017 May 11;2(5):221-229. doi: 10.1302/2058-5241.2.160077. eCollection 2017 May.
  5. d'Astorg H, Rampal V, Seringe R, et al; Is non-operative management of childhood neurologic cavovarus foot effective? Orthop Traumatol Surg Res. 2016 Dec;102(8):1087-1091. doi: 10.1016/j.otsr.2016.09.006. Epub 2016 Nov 4.
  6. Laura M, Singh D, Ramdharry G, et al; Prevalence and orthopedic management of foot and ankle deformities in Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Muscle Nerve. 2018 Feb;57(2):255-259. doi: 10.1002/mus.25724. Epub 2017 Jul 7.

Article history

The information on this page is written and peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

  • Next review due: 14 Apr 2028
  • 16 Apr 2023 | Latest version

    Last updated by

    Dr Hayley Willacy, FRCGP

    Peer reviewed by

    Dr Pippa Vincent, MRCGP
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