What causes toe pain?

Many cases of toe pain are due to injury or age-related wear and tear on the skin, muscles, bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments of the toe. Common causes of toe pain include calluses, arthritis and bunions. However, infectious diseases, neurological conditions, and other abnormal processes can also affect the toe. In particular, sores on your toes that do not heal properly may be a sign of poor blood circulation due to peripheral artery disease, which is a life-threatening condition.

Injury-related causes of toe pain

Toe pain may arise from various injuries including:

  • Amputation (removal of the toe or toenail)

  • Avulsion (forcible tearing away of the toe or toenail)

  • Broken toe or stress fracture

  • Burn

  • Dislocated toe joint

  • Frostbite

  • Laceration or contusion

  • Splinter

  • Strain or sprain

Infection-related causes of toe pain

Toe pain may arise from various infections including:

  • Athlete’s foot (fungal infection)

  • Cellulitis (skin infection)

  • Infection of a wound or other sore

  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)

  • Septic arthritis (infected joint)

Degenerative, inflammatory, and neurological causes of toe pain

Toe pain can be caused by degenerative, inflammatory, and neurological conditions that affect the bones, joints and nerves including:

  • Bunion

  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that cushions a joint)

  • Gout (acute inflammatory arthritis)

  • Hallux rigidus (arthritis of the big toe joint)

  • Hammer toe or mallet toe (toe deformity often caused by ill-fitting shoes)

  • Morton’s neuroma (causes nerve compression)

  • Nerve impingement or compression

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Peripheral neuropathy, such as diabetic neuropathy

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon)

Other causes of toe pain

Toe pain can be due to other conditions including:

  • Bone tumor (malignant or benign)

  • Ingrown toenail

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing or blockage of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of toe pain

To diagnose the underlying cause of toe pain, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. You can best help your health care practitioner in diagnosing the underlying cause of toe pain by providing complete answers to these questions:

  • What is the exact location of your pain?

  • Describe the pain. When did it start? Did it develop slowly or suddenly? Is it is constant or intermittent?

  • Is there any swelling?

  • Are you are experiencing any other symptoms?

Provide your full medical history, including all medical conditions, surgeries and treatments, family history, and a complete list of the medications and dietary supplements that you take.

What are the potential complications of toe pain?

The complications of toe pain depend on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Mild toe pain due to ill-fitting or tight shoes usually responds to rest, ice, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, and wearing comfortable shoes. Because toe pain can be progressive, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to visit your health care provider when you experience any kind of persistent pain or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor can lower your risk of potential complications including:

  • Chronic pain

  • Disability

  • Loss of toe (amputation)

  • Permanent nerve damage

  • Spread of infection


Foot Pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003183.htm


What is toe pain?

Toe pain is any uncomfortable sensation in the toes. Your toes contain bones (the phalanges), joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels, all of which are subject to injury, infection, or other conditions that cause pain.

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What other symptoms might occur with toe pain?

Other symptoms may occur with toe pain depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, an infection or inflammation of the toe might be accompanied by redness or warmth of the area.

Symptoms that may occur along with toe pain

Symptoms that may occur with toe pain include:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 11, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles, Arthritis

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