8 Causes of Big Toe Pain

by Apr 5, 2023

As the largest of the bunch, big toes are the hardest to keep healthy. They’re commonly injured and inflicted by different kinds of trauma, not to mention prone to developing a host of conditions.

Fortunately, we can help! This article will list some of the most common reasons for big toe pain and why they develop. Given the prevalence of these issues, it’s very likely that one is behind your discomfort. If you live in Central Kansas, your best choice is to call the Community Foot Clinic of McPherson today for a professional examination.

Turf Toe

As you might expect based on its name, turf toe is an injury caused by playing sports on artificial surfaces like turf. It is an acute or chronic sprain of the big toe joint, which occurs when the big toe is forced into hyperextension. Hyperextension happens when the joint is pushed beyond its natural range of motion, and can result in strain, inflammation, and pain.

Turf toe is most commonly seen in football players who are tackled with their cleats stuck in the turf. The force of their body weight combined with the opposing fixed force of the shoe can cause immediate damage to the joint. It can also be seen in soccer players who kick with their toes and basketball players who pivot on their toes.

Turf toe is classified as a Grade I sprain, which means the ligaments in the joint are stretched but not torn. It’s most often acute, but can also develop chronically. Telltale symptoms include pain, swelling, and limited joint movement.

Inspecting why there is big toe pain

Stubbed or Broken Toes

We’ve all been through this one before. Stubbed toes are a shared part of the human experience. Whether you’ve walked into a wall, or had another person step on your foot, it’s painful and can be difficult to deal with.

The medical term for a stubbed toe is contusion. It happens when you hit your toes on an object with enough force to cause trauma to the toe. Symptoms of a stubbed toe may include pain, swelling, bruising, and tenderness. The area around the toe can also feel numb or tingly. In more severe cases, the toe may be broken, which requires medical attention and treatment.

The good news is that most cases are relatively minor and can be alleviated by following RICE therapy – resting, icing, compressing, and elevating the toe – within the first 48 hours of injury.

However, in cases of severe pain, bruising, numbness, deformity, or immobility, we recommend calling us to check for broken or dislocated bones.


Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. It commonly affects the big toe, which can become swollen, red, and incredibly tender. Gout symptoms usually come on suddenly and are at their worst during the night. Other signs of gout include warmth, tingling, fever, and a decrease in range of motion.

Gout can be triggered by factors like changes in diet or medication but is most commonly caused by genetics.

Osteoarthritis and Hallux Rigidus

Osteoarthritis, otherwise known as “wear and tear” arthritis, is the most common form of arthritis affecting the big toe. When it occurs in the joint at the base of the big toe,  it’s known as Hallux Rigus. This condition is characterized by stiffness and pain in the joint, which gradually worsens over time leading to limited mobility. Symptoms include pain when walking, difficulty in bending the toe, and swelling around the joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the entire body, but it can have a particularly significant effect on the feet and toes. In this disease, the body’s immune system attacks its own joints and tissues, creating inflammation in the area.

The big toe joint is especially vulnerable to developing rheumatoid arthritis, as it is one of the most mobile parts of the body. Symptoms can include pain, tenderness, warmth, swelling, and difficulty moving the joint. The pain may also be persistent or come and go as an attack of inflammation flares up.

Feet showing bunions causing big toe pain


Bunions are a common foot deformity where the big toe joint protrudes out of its normal position. They form when the ligaments, tendons, and bones around the joint become weakened, allowing the toe to drift outward. This causes a lump of bone and tissue to form on the outside edge of the foot, which can lead to pain, redness, and irritation. Bunions are caused by several factors, including wearing poorly fitting shoes or high heels.


There are two tiny bones in the big toe called sesamoids. The sesamoids are embedded into the tendon of the flexor hallucis longus muscle and help absorb the force of each step we take.

Sesamoiditis is an inflammation or irritation of these bones, usually caused by frequent or excessive force on the sesamoids. This can occur when wearing high heels, engaging in certain sports activities, or having an abnormal foot structure.

The primary symptom of sesamoiditis is a sharp, burning pain in the ball of the foot. The area may also be tender or swollen.

Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails are generally caused by improper trimming of the toenail, which can lead to it digging into the side of the toe. Some medical conditions can make a person more prone to developing an ingrown toenail, such as fungal infections or diabetes.

The main symptom of an ingrown toenail is a shooting pain that radiates from the side of the toe. Other symptoms include redness and swelling. It’s important to get this taken care of right away as an ingrown toenail can become infected if left untreated.

What Can I Do About My Big Toe Pain?

The most effective thing you can do about your big toe pain is to do something about it! In many cases, the best first step is scheduling an appointment with our podiatrist.

The Community Foot Clinic of McPherson can diagnose and treat a wide range of big toe issues, from infection to fracture. Our experienced team will work with you to determine the cause of your discomfort and create a personalized treatment plan. Depending on the condition, this could involve using specialized custom orthotics to provide extra support, resting, icing the area, taking appropriate medications, or a different treatment option.

Complete our online contact form or give our office a call at (620) 241-3313 to request an appointment with Dr. Timson. Let’s get you back on your feet!

McPherson Office

316 W. 4th Street
McPherson, KS 67460
P: (620) 241-3313
F: (620) 241-6967

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