Toe pain can be caused by a variety of injuries and medical conditions, including arthritis, ingrown toenails, toe sprains, toe fractures, sesamoid fractures and toe deformities. Each of these conditions may have other symptoms besides toe pain. The symptoms of these conditions affecting the feet will be described below.
Several different types of arthritis can affect the feet and toes and cause toe joint pain and stiffness, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Osteoarthritis is caused by mechanical damage to the joints over time; it does not usually cause joint pain and stiffness symmetrically in the body. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is caused by an autoimmune disease; the joints of the feet and ankles are usually affected symmetrically, and the smaller joints of the fingers and toes are usually affected before the larger joints of the body. Gout is a type of arthritis that only affects one or a few joints at a time, most commonly the joint of the big toe.
An ingrown toenail will be visible. The side of the toenail digs into the skin next to it, and the adjacent area of skin may be swollen, tender and red.
Some conditions lead to visible deformities of the toes. Examples include bunions, mallet toe, hammer toe and claw toe. A bunion is a painful bump on the outside of the big toe; this bump may become filled with fluid or an abnormal growth of bone. People with bunions may also have big toes that point too far inward. Hammer toe, mallet toe and claw toe are toe deformities that cause the toes to point downward. Hammer toe causes a bending at the middle joint of the toe, mallet toe causes a bending at the joint at the tip of the toe and claw toe causes a bending at both toe joints. This may be painful, especially when trying to wear shoes; ill-fitting shoes may cause blisters or calluses to form on the toes.
If a toe is fractured or sprained, the toe will become swollen, difficult to move and painful. It may be difficult to distinguish between a sprain and a fracture in some cases without visible deformity of the toe, but a fracture often causes bruising around the toe. A sesamoid fracture also causes pain and swelling of the big toe joint, but unlike with a fracture of the toe bones themselves, the joint is not usually completely incapacitated. The pain of a sesamoid fracture may also be more intermittent than that of a toe fracture or sprain.