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What Causes Toe Pain?

There are many potential causes of pain in the toes, including arthritis in the feet, ingrown toenails, toe deformities, toe sprains, toe fractures and sesamoid fractures. This article will briefly describe these common causes of toe pain.

There are several different types of arthritis, or joint inflammation, that can affect the toes. Osteoarthritis is age-related degeneration of joints due to physical wear-and-tear. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system damaging the body’s own joints. Gout is a type of arthritis caused by a crystalline substance called uric acid building up inside of the joints and causing joint inflammation. Gout commonly affects the big toe, and in many cases the big toe joint may be the only joint that is affected by the disease.

Ingrown toenails occur when the skin of the toe grows over the sides of the toenail. This causes the toenail to irritate the skin and severely ingrown toenails can be sore and painful.

There are several types of toe deformities that can cause toe pain. These include bunions, hammer toe, claw toe and mallet toe. A bunion is when the big toe points inward and a painful bump grows on the big toe. The bump may fill with fluid or grow abnormal bone tissue. Hammer toes, mallet toes and claw toes are different types of deformities that usually affect the four smaller toes. In all of these deformities, the toes are bent downwards and they become difficult to straighten. Hammer toes occur when the proximal (near) toe joint is bent, mallet toes occur when the distal (far) toe joint is bent and claw toes occur when both joints are bent. The shoes a person wears, especially women’s high-heeled shoes and ill-fitting shoes, can make it much more likely to develop toe deformities over time.

Some toe pain is caused by trauma that affects the feet. A fracture of any of the toe bones will cause toe pain, bruising and swelling. Sprains of the ligaments of the toes will also cause pain and swelling. An unusual type of bone fracture in the foot is called a sesamoid fracture. Sesamoid bones are small, round bones that are embedded inside of a tendon. There are two sesamoid bones of the big toe; they function to bear the weight of the metatarsal bone of the big toe and help provide leverage. These small bones can be fractured due to acute trauma or stress fractured due to chronic damage. Sesamoid fractures cause toe pain and swelling, but this type of fracture usually does not affect the entire toe joint.