Symptoms A-Z

Sharp, Throbbing Big Toe Pain? Big Toe Pain Causes & Treatment

Experiencing big toe pain can also cause pain when walking, swelling in the toe, or discoloration of the big toe. Common causes of pain in the big toe are a broken or sprained big toe, nerve damage, or gout. Read below for information on more causes and big toe joint pain treatments.

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The Sharp, Shooting Pain in Your Big Toe Symptoms Explained

It is amazing how much trouble one toe gets itself into. While small in comparison to the rest of the body, the big toe is often stubbed, twisted, bumped, or otherwise injured. Dropped items always seem to find it and it is almost guaranteed to get bumped during a midnight walk to the bathroom.

You know the big toe well: it is typically the largest toe and is located on the inner most side of your foot. Your toes remain in contact with the ground almost three-quarters of the time making them a critical component of movement and balance, so, when the big toe hurts, it is noticeable.

Common characteristics of big toe pain

If you're experiencing big toe pain it can likely be described by:

  • Discomfort while walking
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising or discoloration
  • Misalignment
  • Bumps or other disfigurement: Corns, bunions, ingrown toenails, etc.

The entire foot consists of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles with over half of those bones located in the toes. Being the most prominent, the big toe is susceptible to injuries that have the most detrimental effects to daily life when in pain.

While symptoms often follow an easily identifiable traumatic event, it is important to remember that big toe pain symptoms can also result from medical conditions that require treatment beyond what can be performed at home.

What Causes Pain in the Big Toe or Big Toe Joint?

Identifying big toe pain causes is an important step towards determining how to seek treatment. The big toe contains several muscles and joints that can all be susceptible to pain from a range of causes.

Environmental big toe pain causes

Environmental causes may include the following.

  • Trauma: Bruising, spraining, dislocation, and/or fracture can occur when the toe is struck by an object or the toe is stubbed.
  • Nerve damage: More subtle sources of pain may also occur from athletic activities or simply be the result of ill-fitting shoes. These actions can compress nerves through repetitive actions or one-time events.
  • Surface damage: Frequent friction and pressure on the toes can result in damage to the surface of the toes. Corns and calluses are examples of such ailments.

Inflammatory big toe pain causes

Diseases that cause the body to attack itself result in a variety of painful symptoms, particularly in the joints. Arthritis and gout are examples of such autoimmune diseases.

8 Possible Big Toe Pain Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced big toe pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Gout

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

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...

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

Raynaud phenomenon

Raynaud phenomenon, also called Secondary Raynaud syndrome, is a condition that causes small arteries in the skin to abnormally constrict on exposure to cold water or air. This limits blood flow to the hands, fingers, feet, toes, nose, and ears.

Secondary Raynaud syndrome is rare and is caused by another underlying medical condition, often a connective tissue disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or lupus.

Women are more likely than men to be affected, especially if living in cold climates. Family history and smoking are also risk factors.

Symptoms include the hands and feet becoming numb and cold. The skin color changes from pale to bluish, and then to red as the skin warms again.

If not treated, patients may get ulcerated sores or deformities of the fingers and toes, or even gangrene, due to the lack of circulation.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and blood tests.

Treatment includes medications to help increase circulation; treatment of any underlying conditions; and lifestyle changes to gain better protection for the extremities in cold conditions.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: distal numbness, cold toe, cold fingers, spontaneous toe pain, spontaneous finger pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

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Bunion

A bunion is a deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe. Certain footwear styles can worsen bunions.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: bump on outside edge of big toe, big toe pain, toe pain that gets worse when wearing closed-toe shoes, foot ulcer, pain at the base of the toe

Symptoms that always occur with bunion: bump on outside edge of big toe

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Morton neuroma

Morton neuroma, also called by the older name Morton's neuroma, is a thickening of fibrous tissue in the ball of the foot. This tissue encapsulates the nerve leading to the third and fourth toes. It is not actually a tumor of the nerve, as the name suggests.

The thickening is caused by years of trauma, irritation, and/or compression to the feet. High-heeled shoes, especially if narrow or tight, are a common cause. The condition is most often seen in women over age 45.

Symptoms include burning pain in the ball of the foot, especially with walking or running. The condition will not heal on its own and can lead to chronic foot pain.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination of the foot with simple range of motion exercises, and sometimes x-ray.

Treatment includes changing to better-fitting shoes that do not compress the nerve; using orthotics in the shoes to take more pressure off of the nerve; and in some cases the use of corticosteroid injections.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: foot numbness, pain in the sole of the foot, pain when touching the foot, pain in both feet, foot injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

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

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

Treatment for Sharp, Throbbing, or Shooting Pain in the Big Toe

Home remedies such as rest and patience often result in big toe pain symptoms subsiding as pain can often be the result of over/improper use. Under certain circumstances, however, the underlying cause of big toe pain can be more serious and, left untreated, result in long term effects.

When to see a doctor for big toe pain

Typically, it is wise to schedule an appointment with your doctor for any of the following big toe pain symptoms:

  • Severe pain
  • Persistent pain that does not subside for over a week: And/or you have diabetes
  • Signs of infection
  • Swelling that will not subside for several days
  • Pain that prevents walking

Because big toe pain symptoms can originate from a wide range of issues, treatments vary. Several steps are recommended to manage minor discomfort while more serious conditions could require surgery.

At-home big toe pain treatments

You can begin addressing your symptoms at home with the following methods.

  • Rest, ice, and elevation: The simplest treatment, yet possibly the best for minor pain. While staying off your feet can be a challenge, doing so often leads to reduced pain. Ice applied for approximately 15-20 minutes at a time throughout the day will help reduce swelling.
  • Soak: Soaking the toe in warm water for 3-5 minutes several times can be ideal for corns and calluses. Doing so will allow the tissue to soften and be removed with a pumice stone.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or corticosteroid injections can also help reduce pain.
  • Proper footwear: You may not realize it, but tight or ill-fitting shoes can damage the toes. Shoes should be wide enough for all toes to fit comfortably.

Medical big toe pain treatments

After consulting your physician, he or she may recommend the following.

  • Surgery: Surgical procedures of varying degrees may be required to remove bunions, repair ingrown toe nails, realign joints, or properly repair broken toes.
  • Injections: The injection of anti-inflammatory medications, particularly at joints, can help with pain. Corticosteroid injections are an example of this application for the big toe.
  • Medications: Gout is treatable with certain medications resulting in dramatic improvement in pain and inflammation.

Big toe pain is unmistakable and even the slightest pain makes walking uncomfortable. Many times, when the pain is manageable, and cause is known, treatment can be applied at home to help get you back on your feet.

FAQs About Big Toe Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about big toe pain.

Why does my big toe feel numb?

Big toe numbness can be caused for a variety of reasons. Overly tight footwear is a common cause. Tight shoes compress nerves in the toe causing numbness. A symptom of gout is numbness in the big toe in addition to pain. Infections from ingrown toenails may also lead to numbness.

Why does my big toe randomly hurt?

Big toe pain is often caused by strain on the toe from athletics or improper footwear. Either of these causes may result in the toe hurting only after specific incidents. Gout also causes big toe pain, but gout attacks do not cause constant pain, but rather, distinct painful episodes.

Does gout cause big toe pain?

Gout causes pain and swelling in joints and particularly targets the big toe. A type of arthritis, gout is caused by the buildup of uric acid in joints. The condition frequently affects the big toe first before impacting additional parts of the body.

How do you know if you broke your toe or sprained it?

A broken big toe often results in crookedness and significant bruising and swelling. The break may also cause an open wound on the toe. A sprained big toe will most likely retain its form. The toe will exhibit swelling and bruising, but the symptoms will be less severe than if the toe is broken.

What does an ingrown toenail feel like?

An ingrown toenail most commonly affects the big toe, resulting in pain to the touch and redness. Pain is the worst when the toe is bumped, but the slightest touch can sometimes cause discomfort. Wearing shoes may be a challenge. Ingrown toenails can result in infections that cause pus to drain from the area.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Big Toe Pain

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Did you recently injure your foot?
  • Have you ever been told you have flat feet?
  • How would you explain the cause of your foot pain?
  • Has a bunion formed on your foot?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Big Toe Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced big toe pain have also experienced:

  • 10% Swollen Toes
  • 6% Toe Pain
  • 5% Toenail Pain

People who have experienced big toe pain were most often matched with:

  • 37% Gout
  • 37% Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • 25% Nail Infection (Paronychia)

People who have experienced big toe pain had symptoms persist for:

  • 32% Over a month
  • 26% Less than a week
  • 22% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Big Toe Pain Symptom Checker

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Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.