Toe Pain, Why Does My Toe Hurt?

Why do I have Toe Pain?

There are many reasons why you might have toe pain and it is important to find the cause is so you can get on your path to fixing or controlling the problem. This article outlines some of the most common causes and potential treatments.

Common Causes of Toe Pain

The most common area of arthritis in the foot is at the joint of the big toe. Arthritis causes inflammation of the cartilage and lining of the body joints causing redness, warmth, pain and swelling. The big toe is necessary to push off every step you take, so if this joint begins to stiffen, pain can make walking a challenge.

Gout is a form of arthritis that is known to cause severe toe pain. With gout, excess uric acid crystals gather around the joints at the big toe. It can become so painful even laying a blanket over your toe hurts it. Gout is a disease known to exist in men much more than in women.

Toe pain may be experienced as a result of a toe deformity. Conditions such as hammertoe, claw toe and mallet toes cause the toes to curl or bend in abnormal positions. Different toe joints may be affected by these conditions and the pain can be debilitating.

An ingrown toenail can also be a cause of toe pain. This occurs when the toenail grows into the flesh of the toe and often occurs in the big toe. Ingrown toenails are caused by: hereditary factors, improper nail cutting, poorly fitting shoes, curved toenails or trauma to the toe. Part of the pain is often caused by infection in the toe due to this condition.

Hallux rigidus is a name for an immovable big toe. Hallux limitus occurs if the motion is restricted, but some movement is still available. The ends of the bones are covered by articular cartilage and continuous wear or injury can damage this cartilage and allow the bones to rub together. This allows bone spurs or growths to develop and doesn’t allow the toe to bend. The result of this stress on the joint can cause pain at the toe, and also cause bunions or calluses to develop. It affects the way you walk by altering the biomechanics, which can cause foot, ankle, knee, hip, or even lower back pain as well.

Metatarsalgia is another condition that can cause pain in the toes, usually in the form of numbness and tingling. It occurs when the nerves in the feet at the level of the metatarsal heads get irritated or compressed. Toe pain due to metatarsalgia is most often treated using foot orthotics for ball of foot pain.

All of these problems have potential to alter mechanics of the gait cycle enough to cause problems further up the chain to the feet, ankles, knees, hips or back.

What Can I Do to Reduce Toe Pain?

Applying ice to swollen areas and taking anti-inflammatory medications may relieve some of the pain. However, these are only temporary relief strategies. Make sure you choose an appropriate shoe with a large toe box to help reduce pressure on the toes. Certain shoe types, such as those with a stiff sole or with a rocker bottom may help with certain kinds of toe problems.

Your doctor may also send you to a pedorthist or podiatrist for arch supports or foot orthotics to wear in your shoes if the pain in your toe is due to your foot alignment. If none of these conservative methods provide relief and your pain is affecting your daily activity, surgery may be required as a last resort. Foot orthotics to control movement after surgery are usually recommended to help prevent the return of toe pain if part of the cause was due to biomechanical and alignment issues.

Copyright 2010 Roderick MacKenzie, BScPT, C.Ped.(C)

Roderick MacKenzie BScPT, C.Ped.(C) is a certified pedorthist and former physiotherapist (physical therapist) with 15 years of experience with foot orthotics/arch supports. He has designed the new MacKenzie Orthotics line of foot orthotics to bridge the gap between ineffective over the counter arch supports and expensive custom foot orthotic devices. He has designed arch supports that are designed to alleviate a variety of conditions causing toe pain, including alignment issues and metatarsalgia.

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