Swollen Toes Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Individuals with swollen toes may also be experiencing pain, discoloration of the toes, or limited range of motion. Common causes of toes swelling include bacterial or fungal infection of the toe or toenail, an injury to the toes that may also cause purple toes, or inflammation of the toe joints. Gout is a common form of arthritis that causes swollen big toes. Read below for more causes and treatment options for swollen toe.

Symptoms of swollen toes and associated

Swelling is the result of fluid buildup that gets trapped in your body's tissues. Most people first notice swelling because the affected body part may appear larger than normal.

Often, a swollen toe can be easily identified by comparing its size to the size of your other toes; however, if multiple toes are affected, the swelling may not be visibly obvious and difficult to discern. People with swollen toes may also experience other symptoms in addition to the swelling.

These symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling in the foot or ankle
  • Stretched or shiny skin
  • Skin that dimples or pits after pressing on the affected area for a few seconds
  • Stiffness or limited range of motion
  • Warmth or redness of the affected area
  • Itching, stinging and burning between the toes or soles of the feet

If you notice any of these swollen toes symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor promptly in order to follow up on your symptoms, get a diagnosis and receive appropriate care.

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What causes toes to swell?

Any condition that causes accumulation of fluid in the tissues of your toes and feet will cause swelling. Swelling in the toes can have numerous triggers, and though swollen toes may not seem serious initially, without prompt medical follow-up your swoll7en toes symptoms could worsen.

Inflammatory causes:

  • Infection: The feet and toes are particularly susceptible to infection. Walking around barefoot puts the toes in direct contact with various pathogens; but on the other hand, tight, close-toed shoes create a damp, sweaty environment that also allows bacteria to grow. If bacteria or fungi enter the toes via a cut or other puncture, the resulting infection will cause entrance of fluids into the tissues that result in swelling and inflammation.
  • Rheumatologic: This category includes inflammatory conditions involving the body's tissues and joints. Conditions such as arthritis and gout cause inflammation that easily brings fluid into the tissues leading to swelling, redness and tenderness of the joints, especially the toes.

Systemic causes:

  • Conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease that cause dysregulation in multiple parts of the body often affect the feet. These systemic conditions often cause lack of oxygen delivery to the feet and nerve damage (neuropathy) leaving the feet with decreased sensation. People with these conditions do not properly perceive injury. As a result, small injuries can quickly worsen leading to infection and swelling of the toes and feet.

Environmental causes:

  • Trauma: Trauma to the toe that causes swelling can include simple mishaps such as jamming the foot on a wall or table to serious accidents that result in broken bones. Regardless of the cause, direct trauma to the toes will cause swelling.
  • Hygiene: The toenails are an often-ignored body part, but improper attention can lead to toe swelling. Long or curved nails can grow into the flesh of the toe resulting in redness, pain and swelling. Sometimes the ingrown toenail can also cause infection, worsening the problem.
  • Weather: Sometimes extremely cold weather can trigger swelling in people with pre-existing conditions. Take note of any patterns in your toe swelling especially regarding the weather.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.


Gout is a form of arthritis that causes sudden pain, stiffness, and swelling in a joint. The big toe is often affected.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swollen toes

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Nail infection (paronychia)

Paronychia is an infection of the skin of the fingers or toes, at the place where the skin folds down to meet the nail.

Acute, or sudden onset, paronychia is caused by the staphylococcus bacteria. The organism can gain entry if the nail is cracked, broken, bitten, or trimmed too closely.

Chronic, or ongoing, paronychia is caused by a fungus. Anyone whose work requires their hands to be wet much of the time is susceptible.

People with diabetes or a weakened immune system are more susceptible to nail infections.

Symptoms include sore, reddened, swollen skin around the nail, sometimes with pus collecting under the skin.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes skin culture to identify the organism involved.

Treatment for acute paronychia involves having a medical provider clean the wounded nail and drain any infection, and sometimes provide a course of antibiotics.

Treatment for the chronic form involves keeping the skin dry and using an antifungal medication on the affected nail.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: spontaneous finger pain, fingernail pain, fingernail swelling

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Foot sprain

A foot sprain is damage to ligaments within the foot. The term "sprain" refers to overstretching or tearing of ligaments — the strong, fibrous bands of tissue that hold the bones together within the joints. Foot sprains are usually sports or dance injuries. Any sort of running movement that involves sud...

Skin infection of the foot

An infection of the skin of the foot is almost always either fungal or bacterial. A fungal infection of the foot is called tinea pedis, or athlete's foot. It is caused by different types of dermatophyte fungus and is commonly found in damp places such as showers or locker room floors. A bacterial infection anywhere on the skin is called cellulitis if it extends under the skin. It can develop after a break in the skin allows bacteria to enter and begin growing. These bacteria are most often either Streptococcus or Staphylococcus, which are found throughout the environment.

Most susceptible are diabetic patients, since high blood sugar interferes with healing and wounds can easily become chronic and/or deeply infected. Diagnosis is made through physical examination by a medical provider.

Treatment for either a fungal or bacterial infection involves keeping the skin dry and clean at all times. A fungal infection is treated with topical and/or oral antifungal medications, while a bacterial infection will be treated with topical and/or antibiotic medications.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, foot pain, foot redness, warm red foot swelling, swollen ankle

Symptoms that always occur with skin infection of the foot: foot redness, foot pain, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Toe bruise

Toe contusion (bruise) is the damage of the blood vessels (veins and capillaries) that return blood from your tissues back to the heart. The blood pools there and turns blue or purple. It's typically caused by a bump, hit, or fall.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: constant foot pain, toe injury, toe pain from an injury, swollen toes, toe bruise(s)

Symptoms that always occur with toe bruise: toe pain from an injury, toe injury, constant foot pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Familial hypercholesterolemia

Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic disorder that causes LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels to be very high. The condition begins at birth and can cause heart attacks at an early age.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swollen achilles, achilles tendon pain

Symptoms that never occur with familial hypercholesterolemia: achilles tendon pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Right heart failure (cor pulmonale)

Acute cor pulmonale is also called acute right-sided heart failure and acute RHF. It is the sudden failure of the right ventricle of the heart.

The right ventricle pumps blood out of the heart, into the pulmonary artery, and into the lungs. If the pulmonary artery is blocked, the right ventricle will quickly become overworked and in danger of shutting down. A blood clot, called an embolism, or plaque lining this artery can suddenly cut off blood flow from the heart into the lungs.

Risk factors for acute cor pulmonale include surgery, obesity, smoking, and prolonged immobility. All of these leave the person prone to blood clots and/or plaque in the arteries.

Symptoms include sudden chest pain with rapid heartbeat, pale skin, cold sweat, shortness of breath, and coughing, sometimes with blood.

Acute cor pulmonale is a life-threatening medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, blood tests, echocardiogram, and chest x-ray.

Treatment involves oxygen, diuretics, blood-thinning and clot-dissolving medications, and sometimes surgery.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath on exertion, wheezing, decreased exercise tolerance

Symptoms that never occur with right heart failure (cor pulmonale): severe chest pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by att...

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition which causes inflammation of the joints. In most circumstances, psoriatic arthritis presents between the ages of 30 and 50 years and occurs after the manifestation of the symptoms of psoriasis, which is a disease of the skin. Psoriatic arthritis...

Toe fracture

Broken toes are very common and caused by either something falling on the toe (crush injury) or a stubbing of the toe situation.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: constant foot pain, toe injury, toe pain from an injury

Symptoms that always occur with toe fracture: toe injury, toe pain from an injury, constant foot pain

Symptoms that never occur with toe fracture: toe dislocation, toe injury with broken skin

Urgency: Primary care doctor

So... which condition is actually causing your swollen toes?

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How and when to treat swollen toes?

There are multiple lifestyle changes you can add to your current routine in order to prevent swollen toes symptoms.

  • Keep your toenails a reasonable length.
  • Do not wear shoes that are too tight. The feet tend to swell throughout the day, so it is best to purchase new shoes at the day's end.
  • In order to prevent infection, do not walk around public bathrooms, showers or swimming pools with bare feet.

If you notice swollen toes after trauma such as jamming or hitting your foot:

  • Rest, Ice and Elevate: Put an ice pack on your toes every 15 minutes. Maintain your foot elevated and still to minimize further irritation and prevent continued fluid accumulation in your tissues.
  • Protect: If the pain and swelling persists, you can protect the affected toes from further trauma by attaching them to adjacent toes using tape or a self-adhesive wrap. The affected toes will be less likely to move which prevents further inflammation and fluid accumulation. If your swollen toes symptoms persist for a prolonged period of time and worsen despite not seeming related to a traumatic event, make an appointment with your doctor.

Depending on the swollen toes cause your doctor may initiate:

  • Antibiotics: Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if your swollen toes are due to a fungal or bacterial infection to combat the infection and lessen the inflammatory response.
  • Rheumatologic Medications: There are many different types of medications that combat rheumatologic conditions that may be causing your swollen toes.
  • Diagnostic Testing: If your swollen toes are due to a systemic cause, your doctor will do the appropriate diagnostics test and treat your condition holistically.

Seek medical care immediately if:

  • Your toes appear deformed.
  • You cannot straighten your toes.
  • Swelling and pain increases significantly and persists.
  • The toe becomes numb and turns white or pink.

These symptoms may be related to a more serious cause such as a fracture resulting in decreased blood flow to the toes and/or feet

Questions your doctor may ask about swollen toes

  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • What is your body mass?
  • Do you run for exercise or sport?
  • Where exactly is your foot swelling?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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