What causes toe swelling?

Injury or damage to any of the structures in the toe can cause toe swelling. Diseases that affect the entire body, such as diabetes, arthritis, or vascular disease, can also lead to toe swelling.

Common injuries that can lead to toe swelling

A number of common injuries to the toe can cause toe swelling. These injuries include:

  • Bite or sting injuries
  • Broken foot or toe
  • Burns
  • Dislocation of bones
  • Injuries related to overuse
  • Sports injuries
  • Stress fractures
  • Tendon rupture
  • Toe sprain

Inflammatory causes of toe swelling

Inflammation can cause toe swelling that is restricted to one toe or even to a specific location on one toe. Examples of inflammatory causes include:

  • Abscess (localized collection of pus due to an infection or a foreign object under the skin)
  • Blisters and bunions
  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that cushions a joint)
  • Cellulitis (infection of the skin and underlying soft tissue)
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • Papilloma virus infection (plantar warts)
  • Paronychia (nail infection)
  • Skin ulceration
  • Tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon)
  • Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels)

Arthritic causes of toe swelling

Inflammation due arthritis can cause toe swelling. Examples of arthritic causes of toe swelling include:

  • Gout (a type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints)
  • Osteoarthritis (wearing down of cartilage in the joints)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)

Situational causes of toe swelling

Toe swelling may result from an activity or situation including:

  • Extended airplane or car rides
  • Pregnancy (in women)
  • Standing for extended periods
  • Surgery on the toe

Other causes of toe swelling

Toe symptoms can also be caused by problems that affect multiple body systems. In many of these conditions, toe swelling may be a generalized process that affects both feet. Examples include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Benign or malignant tumors
  • Blood clots
  • Buerger’s disease (acute inflammation and clotting of arteries and veins)
  • Heart failure
  • Medication side effects
  • Obesity
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

Serious or life-threatening causes of toe swelling

  • Although life-threatening causes of toe swelling are rare, all serious injuries, including toe injuries, should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. In some cases, toe swelling that is accompanied by serious symptoms, such as a high fever, loss of consciousness, or sudden swelling in the face, lips or tongue may be caused by a serious infection or anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. These life-threatening conditions should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of toe swelling

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your toe swelling including:

  • How long has your toe been swollen?
  • Did you experience an injury to your toe?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms, such as pain or loss of sensation?
  • When do your symptoms occur?
  • Are your symptoms worsened or relieved by movement or specific activities?

What are the potential complications of toe swelling?

Because toe swelling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Amputation
  • Deformity
  • Difficulty walking
  • Disability
  • Paralysis
  • Serious infections and gangrene
  • Severe discomfort or pain
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection


  1. Fracture (broken bones). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00139.
  2. Foot problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/foot-problems.html.

What is toe swelling?

Toe swelling is characterized by a buildup of fluids in your toe. A collection of excess fluid anywhere in the body is known as edema. The swelling may be painless or accompanied by a variety of symptoms, including bruising, itchiness, pain, numbness, redness, stiffness and tenderness.

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What other symptoms might occur with toe swelling?

Toe swelling may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the toes may also involve other body systems.

Other toe symptoms that may occur along with toe swelling

Toe swelling may accompany other symptoms affecting the toe including:

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: Injuries and Wounds

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