A few months back, I woke up with a sharp pain in my left big toe. It was violent. I felt like I had broken the digit straight off, and even just the weight of a blanket was pushing me over the edge. I couldn’t sleep and I certainly couldn’t walk. My big toe pain was blinding, and I almost went to the hospital. Here’s what I learned during the experience, and how it can help you if you’re experiencing toe pain.
What does it mean when your toes hurt?
We ask a lot from our feet and toes. Most toe pain stems from small injuries or overworked feet. Some of the more common toe pain causes include:
- Ingrown toenails
- Cuts or scrapes
- Athlete’s foot
- Plantar warts
- Small injuries (such as bruising from stubbing your toe)
You can learn more about treating each of these at the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society website. While many people experiencing toe pain will find relief from allowing a blister or an injury to heal, sometimes toe pain can point to larger underlying issues. These more significant causes of toe pain include:
- Toe or foot fractures
- Overuse injuries and strain, such as hammer toe and tennis toe
- Morton’s neuroma
- Peripheral diabetic neuropathy
- Arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis
Tracking toe pain symptoms
Most importantly, start tracking the pain symptoms you’re experiencing. This can help your doctor in the future figure out the cause of your pain. For example, a condition like Morton’s neuroma feels like there is a small stone under the foot. Hammer toe creates visual symptoms–typically causing the middle toe joint to bent upwards. Both of these lead to painful toes, but in different ways. They also have different treatment approaches.
Start by tracking:
- Where you feel the pain: Do you feel pain in one specific toe, a toe joint, or between the toes?
- What the pain feels like: Is it sharp or shooting, or achy and throbbing? Did it come on gradually or was it sudden?
- If there are any visual symptoms: Do you notice any redness or swelling around the toes, large deformities on the toes or foot, or signs of infection?
- When you feel symptoms: Are you more likely to experience pain or other symptoms in the morning, while exercising, or while wearing specific shoes?
- Which treatments help: If resting or icing your feet, or taking your shoes off, relieves pain, make sure to mention that too in your tracker.
With all of this information, your doctor can come to a much better idea about what’s causing your pain.
Talk to a doctor about your toe pain
When it came to my toe pain, I knew I had to do something. The next day, I made an appointment with my doctor to see what the problem was. Had I broken my big toe? Was I suffering from some strange malady? Nope. It was gout. And even though I didn’t expect it, it turns out that gout is one of the leading causes of toe pain in men my age. As Foot-Pain-Explored.com explains:
“Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid in the body, produced as the body breaks down purines, a substance found in certain food and drink. This leads to the formation of urate crystals which can collect in the toe joint and cause inflammation.”
Further, I’ve always been able to crack my toes. I wasn’t sure why, but it’s just something I’ve always done. Turns out it might be because I have early onset of arthritis in my big toe, which leads to the first part of the gout equation. In addition, I’ve battled with gastrointestinal issues for years, and recently I decided to get aggressive and change my diet substantially. Through adjustments here and there, I found myself with a limited selection of foods that I could eat, so I ate a lot of options that I liked that fit into my meal plan.
And therein lay the problem: I was eating too many rich foods, and when combined with the slightly arthritic toe, I got gout.
It made me think of an interesting point. I had this preconceived notion that I wasn’t able to get a disease such as gout because I didn’t fit an age range that I felt was appropriate. Of course, I was completely wrong. Gout hit me before I turned 40, and is one of more common causes of toe pain.
Treating toe pain
Today, with an adjustment to my diet and an awareness of the issue, I’m gout free and my toe pain is gone. It looks like I won’t have to worry about it again assuming I follow a few steps, but even then there is the possibility of it coming back.
If it does, I won’t hesitate to head in and talk to someone about it, because now I know that putting it off for arbitrary reasons just doesn’t make sense. That, and waking up screaming is a good way to tick off your significant other.
How you go about treating your toe pain will largely depend on what’s causing you pain in the first place. Some of the most common toe pain treatments include:
- Making changes to your diet and exercise
- Losing weight to reduce pressure on feet
- Taking over-the-counter medications, like aspirin or ibuprofen
- Using the RICE method for injuries (rest, ice, compression, and elevation)
- Soaking sore feet in a warm bath
- Finding toe-friendly shoes and avoiding high heel or other restrictive shoes
- Using shoe insoles or other orthotic inserts
- Going to a physical therapist to work on stretching and strengthening
- Talking to your doctor about interventional options, like steroid injections or surgery
No matter what’s causing your toe pain, it’s very likely there’s something that can help you relieve your pain and get back to your life. A simple trip to the doctor led me on my path to less pain. I think it will for you too.
If you’re suffering from severe toe pain and other options haven’t worked, you may want to talk to a pain specialist. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.