The feet are durable and flexible parts of the human body that are more complex than you would think. They’re made up of tendons, bones, joints, and tissues that all work together to allow us to stand upright, walk, and run. Feet have five toes each, and the big toe is remarkable. It leaves the ground last with each step and is responsible for push-off.
You can imagine that having big toe joint pain would cause a lot of trouble with daily activities, particularly walking. Big toe pain is commonly felt deep in the joint, but sometimes it can also be felt in the toenail.
Symptoms of big toe joint pain and swelling
Pain and swelling in the big toe are typically the result of another condition and are usually experienced alongside other symptoms. Some of these accompanying symptoms include:
- Redness and discoloration
- Pain after rest
- Stiff joints
- Difficulty wearing shoes
- Nail pain
The condition you have will determine just what symptoms you experience in addition to your big joint pain. Swelling and bruising typically accompany big toe joint pain if you have injured your foot or the surrounding area, while discoloration and numbness could point to a more serious condition like a blood clot. If you have any of the symptoms above and don’t yet know what’s causing them, read on.
Big toe joint pain: Causes and types
There are a variety of different causes for joint pain in the big toe. Here are some of the most common causes of big toe joint pain:
Gout. The symptoms of gout in regard to toe pain are intense pain, inflammation, redness, and tenderness. The condition develops when your body has high levels of uric acid, leading to formation of urate crystals in the blood, which often end up in the toe joint.
Bunions. Also known as hallux valgus, bunions look like large bumps over the big toe joint. The big toe begins to move inwards towards the other toes, making your feet look wider. These are more common in women as they are caused by ill-fitting or uncomfortable shoes, like high heels.
Arthritis. The base of the big toe is the most common place to get foot arthritis. As our big toes aid in a lot of our movement, they are especially susceptible to wear-and-tear conditions like arthritis. Inflammation, stiffness, and pain experienced when pushing off the ground are common symptoms.
Ingrown toenail. This often occurs on the big toe often as the nail curves into the skin on the sides of the toe. Common symptoms are swelling, pain, and redness.
Turf toe. A sports-related foot injury, it is signified by pain on the bottom of the big toe as well as inflammation and tenderness. It’s known to affect athletes who play on artificial surfaces—which is where it gets its name. It stems from a strain, often caused by hyperextension (when the big toe bends too far back, causing damage to the ligament).
Sesamoiditis. Underneath the big toe are two smaller bones. They help to move the big toe, especially when you’re pushing off the ground. When these bones become inflamed, you can experience big toe pain. It’s related to activities that require your balance on your toes such as jumping, as well as wearing high-heels.
Tennis toe. This is caused by repeated damage, which results in the blood accumulating underneath the nail, particularly the nail of the big toe. It can cause severe throbbing pain and discoloration. If you are performing activities that cause you to press the front of your toe against the inside of your shoe, like coming to hard stops while running, you are more at-risk for tennis toe.
Other causes of big toe joint pain
Here are some less common causes of big toe joint pain that, while not as frequently diagnosed, can be just as bad, or even worse, than the aforementioned causes.
Fractures. When you break your toe bone.
Diabetes. Diabetes patients experience more foot pain due to blood vessel damage.
Blue toe syndrome. When small blood vessels in the foot are blocked, you have reduced blood and oxygen flow. Your toes will hurt and turn blue.
Capsulitis. The fluid-filled sac surrounding the toe joints becomes inflamed.
Pain in the swollen big toe joint: Diagnosis and treatment options
When you start to experience joint pain in the big toe, you need to get yourself to a doctor. They will ask you a bunch of questions to understand what kind of activities you engage in and the symptoms you experience. A physical examination is likely and in some cases, you may need to do a blood test. Imaging tests may be used to see if you have a fracture or break in the bone.
Depending on what the doctor diagnoses you with, you may be prescribed medication to reduce inflammation and pain. Changing your footwear—for example, not wearing high heels and wearing better-fitted shoes—is a good option, as well as getting orthotics. Stretching exercises are routine and are recommended despite any of the causes of your big toe joint pain.
Other diseases may require more specific treatment methods. If you have gout, you may need to change your diet. Bunions may require surgery.
Big toe joint pain prevention tips
To prevent big toe joint pain, wear comfortable and well-fitted shoes. Make sure you aren’t cramping your toes in the front of ill-fitted shoes and avoid wearing high heels when not necessary. Exercise often, especially your lower body, to stay strong and flexible. You should also avoid gaining excess weight, and if you are obese, try your best to lose some. Every additional pound you have will add more pressure on your joints.
When to see a doctor
You should see a doctor if you begin to experience pain in your big toe joint and don’t know what the cause is. It’s important to determine the cause of your symptoms to find appropriate treatment methods, and a doctor—or foot specialist—will be your best ally. If you catch the problem and treat it early, you’ll be able to avoid future problems.
So, if you’re experiencing pain in your big toe joint and don’t know the cause, make sure to see a doctor. Your treatment will vary depending on what you are diagnosed with, but regardless, make sure to follow the treatment to the tee and try to get diagnosed early to prevent future, long-lasting damage from occurring.