Common Toe Problems:
Signs, Causes, and Treatment
Why You Should Pay More Attention To Your Toes
The human foot has many moving parts that work together to keep us ‘on our toes’. Your foot is made up of 26 bones, which connect tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Did you know that 14 of the 26 bones in your feet are in your toes?
People tend to ignore their toes—they’re small, and they hide inside the shoes we force them into. It’s important to make sure they remain healthy and be aware of symptoms that may cause common toe pains. Toes affect a person’s overall balance, and ignoring the issues can lead to bigger problems.
Tell-Tale Signs Of A Toe Problem
Think you know how to spot toe problems? Our experts are sharing a few key health symptoms to keep an eye on:
-Burning -Numbness -Wart or ulcer -Swelling -Redness -Pain in other joints
Common Causes Of A Toe Problem
There are many different causes of toe pain. These include chronic toe conditions that cause pain; acute injuries that lead to toe pain; and medical illnesses that can cause toe pain among other symptoms.
Common toe injuries include sprains and fractures.
Common medical conditions leading to toe pain symptoms include gout, diabetes, and arthritis.
Common chronic causes of toe pain include bunions, toe deformities, and toenail problems.
Additionally, warts, corns, or calluses can cause toe pain. Some causes of toe pain like mild injuries can be treated at home with rest and ice. Most other causes of toe pain symptoms, including chronic issues, medical illnesses, and serious injuries, require a doctor to diagnose and treat the condition.
Injuries — especially if they’re severe or not given time to heal — can lead to toe pain.
Some common toe injuries include:
The most common type of toe sprain occurs with hyperextension of the big toe and is common among soccer or football players.
When you sprain or fracture a toe on your foot, signs and treatment are both fairly similar.
Typically, a fracture would present with acute pain, swelling, and possibly deformity to the area. Stress fractures in the toe may happen over time in the setting of overuse and would also cause pain and swelling to the affected toe.
Our specialists recommend that you see your primary care doctor or an urgent care doctor the next day following a toe injury. X-rays would be taken to determine if it’s a sprain, fracture, or a bad bruise (toe contusion).
Treatment is relatively simple, just putting the toe in the right place and taping it to its healthy neighbor toe.
Top Symptoms: constant foot pain, toe injury, toe pain from an injury
Symptoms that always occur with toe fracture: toe injury, toe pain from an injury, constant foot pain
Symptoms that never occur with toe fracture: toe dislocation, toe injury with broken skin
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Some medical conditions can lead to toe pain, such as the following:
Gout is a form of arthritis that causes sudden pain, stiffness, and swelling in a joint. The big toe is often affected, but it can also happen in other joints. Sometimes, the joint gets hot and red. Gout is caused by uric acid crystals. Risk factors for gout include obesity, eating a lot of meat, drinking beer, age (older), sex (male), and family history.
You should see a healthcare professional to see if uric acid crystals have accumulated in the joint. Gout can be diagnosed based on symptoms, but taking a sample of joint fluid for testing is common. A physician can give you a prescription for anti-inflammatory medications and/ or pain medications. There are also medications to stop your body from making too much uric acid. Sometimes, a shot in the joint can help with symptoms also.
Top Symptoms: swollen toes
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the lining of the joints, causing them to become thickened and painful. It can also affect other parts of the body such as the heart, lungs, eyes, and circulatory system.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system turns against itself for unknown reasons. Most at risk are women from ages 30-60. Other risk factors are family history, smoking, and obesity.
Early symptoms include warm, swollen, stiff, painful joints, especially the fingers, and toes; fatigue; and fever. Usually, the same joints on both sides of the body are affected.
If untreated, irreversible joint damage and deformity can occur, with other complications. Early diagnosis can allow preventive treatment to begin as soon as possible.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests; an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI. There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but the disease can be managed to improve quality of life.
Treatment includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; steroids; anti-rheumatic drugs; physical therapy; and sometimes surgery to repair the joints.
Over time, diabetes affects the nerves in the feet, which can lead to pain, burning, or numbness in the toes and feet. Because the toes may be numb, patients with diabetes are at higher risk of developing ulcers or sores on their feet or toes that go unnoticed. These have the potential to become infected and can be limb-threatening.
Chronic Foot Or Toe Conditions
Conditions of the foot can lead to toe pain, such as the following:
A bunion is a malformation of the foot that causes the big toe to point inwards and leads to pain and difficulty walking. The cause of this deformity is unknown, but it increases with age.
There are several options for bunion treatment. Some patients find pain relief with treatments that reduce pressure on the big toe, such as padding, splinting, medication, wearing wider shoes, or using pads in shoes. If these measures do not help, your podiatrist may recommend surgical correction.
Compression of nerves in the foot can lead to toe pain. Typically, the pain associated with nerve compression is described as a burning sensation located between the toes. The most well-known nerve problem associated with the lower extremities is called Morton neuroma.
Morton neuroma is a thickening of fibrous tissue in the ball of the foot. This tissue encapsulates the nerve leading to the third and fourth toes.
It is not a tumor of the nerve, as the name suggests. The thickening is caused by years of trauma, irritation, and/or compression to the feet. High-heeled shoes, especially if narrow or tight, are a common cause. The condition is most often seen in women over age 45.
Symptoms include burning pain in the ball of the foot, especially with walking or running. The condition will not heal on its own and can lead to chronic foot pain.
Diagnosis is made through a physical examination of the foot with simple range of motion exercises, and sometimes an x-ray.
Treatment includes changing to better-fitting shoes that do not compress the nerve; using orthotics in the shoes to take more pressure off of the nerve; and in some cases use of corticosteroid injections.
Top Symptoms: foot numbness, pain in the sole, pain when touching the foot, pain in both feet, foot injury
There are multiple possible issues with the toenail that can cause toe pain. Ingrown toenails occur when the toenail pierces the skin around the nail leading to inflammation and possible infection. Another toenail problem can occur as an infection and is referred to as Paronychia (nail infection)
Paronychia is an infection of the skin of the fingers or toes, at the place where the skin folds down to meet the nail. Acute, or sudden onset, paronychia is caused by the staphylococcus bacteria. The organism can gain entry if the nail is cracked, broken, bitten, or trimmed too closely. Chronic, or ongoing, paronychia is caused by a fungus. Anyone whose work requires their hands to be wet much of the time is susceptible. People with diabetes or a weakened immune system are more susceptible to nail infections.
Symptoms include sore, reddened, swollen skin around the nail, sometimes with pus collecting under the skin.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes skin culture to identify the organism involved.
Treatment for acute paronychia involves having a medical provider clean the wounded nail and drain any infection, and sometimes provide a course of antibiotics.
Treatment for the chronic form involves keeping the skin dry and using an antifungal medication on the affected nail.
Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit
There are several common toe deformities, including hammertoe, that can cause toe pain symptoms. Typically, these deformities arise from injury, inflammation, or trauma to the foot, although some are genetic. Diabetes and arthritis predispose patients to these types of deformities.
A hammertoe has an abnormal bend in the middle joint of a toe. Mallet toe affects the joint nearest the toenail. Hammertoe and mallet toe usually occur in your second, third, and fourth toes. Relieving the pain and pressure of hammertoe and mallet toe may involve changing your footwear and wearing shoe inserts. If you have a more severe case of hammertoe or mallet toe, you might need surgery to get relief.
Symptoms include an abnormal bend in the joints of one or more of your toes. Moving the affected toe may be difficult or painful. Corns and calluses can result from the toe rubbing against the inside of your shoes.
A Diagnosis is produced by a physical examination of your foot. Your doctor might order X-rays to further evaluate the bones and joints of your feet and toes.
Prevention: You can avoid many foot, heel, and ankle problems with shoes that fit properly. Make sure you have considered the following when wearing or purchasing a pair of shoes:
Adequate toe room. Avoid shoes with pointed toes.
Low heels. Avoiding high heels will help you avoid back problems.
Adjustability. Laced or strapped shoes are roomier and adjustable.
Rarity: Fairly Common
Urgency: Primary Care Provider
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