Most of the time, we don’t give a lot of thought to our toes. You might paint your toenails. (And if you do, I hope you use my safe at-home pedicure tips.) Or, you've embraced the natural look, and give your toes a vacation from polish.
Either way, most of the time, they sit there in your socks, balancing out the rest of your foot. And not calling much attention to themselves.
Of course, all that changes if they start to hurt. Suddenly, those toes are all you can think about! So, if that’s the boat you’re in right now, don’t despair: I’m here to help. If you keep reading, I'll walk you through the possible causes of your toe woe! And then we'll explore the best ways to relieve that toe pain!
8 Top Causes of Toe Pain and Injury
Smashes and stubs
Newsflash: a lot of you guys drop stuff on your toes. And that can cause big problems. But what if it's something harmless, like a book, you ask? Even that could be a problem. Because, when dropped from your chest height, can injure your toe on impact. Especially if you’re into reading long, drawn-out sagas.
And the same thing goes for walls and corners that seem to come out of nowhere. (How do they always seem to know when you’re walking past them? It's like they jut out on purpose!) Then, when they do, those stubbing injuries hurt like heck. And it's a good idea to come if an get checked after a big bump. Because these injuries often give you a sprained or fractured toe! Even if you're able to walk afterwards, you could be more hurt than you know!
Athletics can be tough on your toes, especially if you play on artificial surfaces. Take turf toe, for example. After Kansas City Chiefs' QB Patrick Mahomes lost 2021's big game, many people blamed his turf toe. But few knew what it was. So here's the deal.
This injury is a sprain that’s caused when you keep bending your toe, or pushing off it to get a running start. And it usually builds up over time, but can sometimes be acute. Which could be your problem if you trip over your toe or get it caught on something like a deep toy.
If your big toe is red and throbbing, you may have gout. This is a form of arthritis that causes inflammation. That happens when your uric acid levels build up in your bloodstream.
Many things can contribute to that build-up. And a diet high in not-so-good stuff like beer, sugary sodas, organ meat or even fruit juice can trigger a flare up. Plus, dehydration could give you trouble, too. Since less water in your blood means higher concentrations of uric acid.
I'm often the first person to give you a gout diagnosis. Because symptoms pop up in your toe. After we know what's going on, I'll probably refer you to a gout specialist. But I can also offer immediate relief for gout pain, either with a quick injection. Or with new products like rollon gout pain creams. Like this brand new item from Universal Body Labs that I'm watching.
Your own body (biomechanics)
Foot biomechanics describes the relationships between your foot bones and joints and the rest of your body. Called your first ray, the big toe could be flexible or stiff. It could be flexed or in a neutral position. And all of those factors will determine how you walk, and how you push off from the ground when you do.
Now, some biomechanics are more optimal than others. Sometimes, faulty mechanics in your body can mess with your toe’s alignment. Over time, this can cause a bony outgrowth to develop between your big toe (bunion). Or, if it pops up near your baby toe, we call it a bunionette or tailor’s bunion.
Left untreated, bunions can make it hard for you to fit into your. Walking may become difficult. And some people may even develop arthritis in the areas surrounding their bunions. But simple interventions such as supportive orthotic devices.
This condition affects the joints anywhere in your body, including your feet and toes. Usually, your big toe will fall victim to arthritis pain, but any joint can be affected. While there is no cure for arthritis, we can slow progression and manage your symptoms, especially with early intervention.
In each foot, you have two oval bones known as the sesamoid bones. And they sit inside a tendon that helps your big toe bend and flex. With lots of pressure, especially from athletic activities such as running or dancing, these bones can develop inflammation, leading to sesamoiditis. Anyone can develop this condition, but you'll have a higher risk if you have flat feet or choose the wrong footwear.
Bunions and Tailor's Bunions
Bunions and tailor's bunions are foot deformities that form at the base of your big or pinky toe, respectively. The bump forms when abnormal forces cause your metatarsal bones to rotate outward. With early intervention, we can prevent small bumps from growing larger, allowing us to relieve pain and keep you in your favorite shoes without the need for surgery.
How Do We Treat Toe Pain?
Don’t worry—I can make your toe stop hurting. But HOW I do that will depend on what’s causing your discomfort. And that's why seeing me at the first sign of trouble is a must.
Then, when you come into my Houston podiatry office with toe pain, I’ll conduct a thorough examination. I'll check to see if your problem is coming from your muscles or ligaments (a sprain), or if its your bones or joints.
In some cases, I may need to order X-rays—which we can do in the office—to determine the exact cause of your injury. But even if your toe is broken, we probably won’t need to give you a cast. Typically, we can isolate your injured toe by taping it to its neighbor (buddy taping.) Then, rest, ice and elevation can also help your toe heal quicker.
But what if you have a sprain? We'll likely apply the same treatment with a sprained toe. And, with either injury, most people will recover fully within 6 weeks. Still, if your fracture is displaced or severe, your bone may need to be realigned surgically. Which is also something I can handle as your podiatrist.
But what about the other issues, like bunions? When your toe pain is rooted in biomechanical issues, I try to address the underlying imbalances. Because that's the only way to take pressure off your feet.
To do so, you may need to change your footwear, get fitted for orthotics or get some physical therapy. In some cases, I may recommend surgery. But, no matter what, take heart: we can and will determine the cause of your toe pain and resolve your discomfort. So you can get back to the business of forgetting those toes even exist.
Still, I can't do that if I don't see. And, if you walk around on sore toes, your pain will likely get worse. So make an immediate appointment at the first sign of toe pain. That's the best way to get lasting relief, with minimal complications.