You probably don’t give too much thought to your toes, until they’re in pain — and you suddenly realize how difficult it can be to get around when they’re injured. There are a number of different causes for toe pain, which can affect the bones, the nails, or the skin.
If you have pain, swelling, or discoloration in your toe, particularly after you stub it, have a fall, or drop an object on it, it could indicate a broken toe. A fracture to the toe may not be quite as painful as one in another area of the body, but it can hurt and make it difficult to walk. In most cases, a broken toe heals in four to six weeks with some simple immobilization — taping it to a neighboring toe to keep it stable. In some severe cases, surgery may be required, especially if a break is left untreated and it becomes infected.
Ingrown toenails are a very common source of toe pain; these most often occur when the nail is trimmed too short, especially along the corners, which causes the nail to grow into the skin, but it can also be the result of ill-fitting shoes. This leads to discomfort and even infection, with swelling, tenderness, and a feeling of hardness in the area; over time, the skin can grow over the part of the nail digging into the toe. In many cases, you can treat this at home by soaking your foot in warm water with soap or epsom salt to reduce swelling and the chance of infection, along with lightly separating the nail from the skin. You can do this by placing cotton or a piece of dental floss under the ingrown area, and changing it out daily. Wear open-toed shoes as much as possible, and if pain becomes severe or the toe looks infected, consult your doctor.
Hammer toe is a deformity that causes a bend in the middle knuckle of the second, third, or fourth toes, sometimes with a corn or callus on the top or tip of the toe. This can make it difficult to find shoes that fit comfortably, but the fit of shoes is often the cause of the condition in the first place: muscle imbalance and shoes that immobilize the toes or push them close together can both cause a hammer toe to form. High heels and narrow-toed shoes are particularly likely to make this happen because of the way they push the toes together. Wearing wider-toed shoes and performing foot exercises and stretches that your doctor can recommend can both help treat this condition, but if it becomes advanced, surgery may be required.
If pain in your toe is severe, lasts more than a couple of weeks, makes walking difficult, or if you suspect infection, consult your doctor.