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What are the Most Common Causes of Toe Pain?

By Madeleine A.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are many causes of toe pain. One of the most common causes is the presence of a corn. A corn is a type of toe callus that develops as a result of repetitive friction. Corns have a core that can exert pressure on nerves of the toe, leading to intense pain. Pain related to corns may be caused by toe pressure from ill-fitting shoes or socks that are too tight in the toe area. Typically, preventing pain from corns involves wearing properly fitting shoes and wearing small pads to absorb friction. Other common causes of toe pain include arthritis, gout and bunions.

One source of pain in the toes is hallux rigidus, a degenerative form of arthritis that affects the big toe. This type of arthritis may be caused by a history of sports injuries. Generally, this type of toe pain causes significant discomfort and may affect the ability to walk. Frequently, pain in other joints, such as the knee or hip, may be evident. Sometimes, lower back pain may be attributed to toe pain caused by hallux rigidus.

Another frequent cause of a painful toe is gout, also a form of arthritis. This arthritis is related to the formation of uric acid crystals that form on connective tissue or in synovial fluid. This fluid refers to the fluid responsible for cushioning joints. Uric acid crystals are very sharp and are responsible for the acute inflammatory process, which contributes to the pain of gout. Frequently, an attack of gout begins with severe and sudden pain in the big toe.

Sometimes, bunions, or hallux valgus, is the source of pain in the big toe. Typically, a bunion is described as a bump or protruding bone on the side of the foot or big toe. This occurs when certain bones in the front of the foot are misaligned, causing the bump. Symptoms of a bunion may include pain and inflammation of the toe, burning and numbness.

Generally, treatment options for a painful toe depend on the cause of the pain. Typically, a physician may recommend anti-inflammatory medications, as toe pain frequently involves inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medications not only reduce inflammation and swelling, but also help relieve pain. Usually, if the patient cannot tolerate anti-inflammatory medications, the physician may recommend prescription analgesics that contain codeine. It is important to seek evaluation and treatment of a painful toe because long-term mobility issues may occur if not properly treated.

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Discussion Comments
By kola — On Jul 06, 2013

NSAIDs are prescribed to treat gout.

By amypollick — On Jun 18, 2012

@anon275414: This may be a long shot, but a cactus spine might not show up on an X-ray. Have you tried "drawing salve" -- also called black salve or ichthammol? I had a tiny spine in my foot. I put the salve on it, put a bandage on it and kept it covered about three days. When I took the bandage off, I could see the spine still in my skin and squeezed it right out.

The stuff is about $4 for a tube, and most neighborhood-type drugstores have it. You might want to give it a try.

By anon275414 — On Jun 18, 2012

I had a cactus spine pierce my fourth toe (next to the pinky toe) about one month ago. It was a little stab and it was not that painful, just piercing the skin slightly. The location was in the top knuckle close to the nail.

Within a few days I developed an ache that is most pronounced in the base of this toe, on the top. It is somewhat painful to the touch now. It aches the most shortly after running or jumping or walking long distances. I have had it X-rayed and there was nothing that showed up on the X-ray and the doctor ruled out infection. The doctor just treated like a sprain and said to keep it elevated and to wrap it up up with the pinky toe. I have done this but it just seems to be getting worse. Ideas?

By anon171387 — On Apr 30, 2011

This is my second time to suffer from this gout. At first, i stopped eating alcohol and meat then after that i felt better. Two years down the line it comes with a bang. hey people, this ailment is bad. i haven't got any solid solution to this. help people?

By submariner — On Aug 03, 2010

@ PelesTears- Ingrown toenails are a common sports injury, as is turf toe. Turf toe causes severe joint pain at the base of the toe. Turf toe occurs from pushing off, or lunging hard. It is essentially a sprain of the MTP joint. The pain of turf toe can be debilitating, bringing down the toughest of athletes.

If the toe is not rested, permanent damage can be done to the toe. This damage will lead to reduced motion, and changes in the way a person walks. The injured person can end up with a permanent limp from untreated turf toe. At the very least, anyone with turf, toe should avoid letting the toe bend under pressure for a few weeks.

By PelesTears — On Aug 03, 2010

Ingrown toenails can also cause swollen toes and pain in the toes. Ingrown toenails result from improper fitting shoes and improper trimming of toenails. When a toenail becomes ingrown, it grows into the skin at the edge of the toe. This can be very painful, and can become infected.

To treat an ingrown toenail, you can soak it in warm water and epsom salts until it grows out, and the pain goes away, if it becomes infected you should seek medical attention. You should also seek medical attention if you have diabetes or a poor circulation in your legs.

To prevent ingrown toenails, make sure you wear shoes that fit properly, and trim your nails straight across. Do not cut your nails in at the edges.

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