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Toe Pain

Is this your symptom?

  • Pain in the toe


There are many possible causes of toe pain. Some common minor causes are:

  • Cellulitis (skin infection)
  • Ingrown Toenail
  • Overuse
  • Paronychia (toenail infection)
  • Raynaud's phenomenon (also known as Raynaud's Disease)

Often toe pain can be from arthritis. Arthritis means joint ("arthr") inflammation ("itis"). The most common forms of arthritis are:

  • Gout: This type of arthritis happens to some people because of a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. Pain from gout or gouty arthritis comes on quickly. A person will notice rapid onset of severe pain, redness, and swelling in one joint.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is also called "wear and tear" arthritis. It is the most common type of arthritis. As people get older the cartilage in the joints wears down. This type of arthritis often affects both sides of the body equally. The joints hurt and feel stiff. Osteoarthritis is seen more often after age 50. Nearly everyone will get some degree of wear and tear arthritis as they get older.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is a rare type of arthritis. It usually affects both sides of the body. In addition to pain, there can be joint redness, swelling, stiffness, and warmth. Special blood tests are needed to diagnose this type of arthritis.

Some people have crooked looking toes. These can sometimes cause foot and toe pain:

  • Claw toe
  • Hammertoe
  • Mallet toe

People can develop other lumps and bumps on their toes. These can sometimes cause mild pain.

  • Bunion (Hallux valgus):
  • Bunionette (Tailor's Bunion)
  • Corns: These are thickened areas of hard skin that form on the tops of or between the toes.

When Should You Seek Medical Help Right Away?

Here are some signs that the toe pain might be serious. You should seek medical help right away if:

  • Signs of infection occur (such as spreading redness, red streak, warmth)
  • Joint swelling with fever

Infections of the feet and toes can be more serious in people who have diabetes.

Pain Scale

  • None: No pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: The pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

When to Call for Toe Pain

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Severe pain
  • Fever and swollen toe
  • Fever and red area of skin
  • Large red area or red streak
  • Purple or black skin of toe
  • Numbness (loss of feeling) in toes of new onset
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Yellow pus under skin around toenail (cuticle) or pus under toenail
  • Looks like a boil, infected sore, or other infected rash
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Toe pain keeps you from working or going to school
  • Toe pain lasts more than 7 days
  • Toe pains on and off for weeks or months (are frequent, come and go)
  • Toe numbness (loss of feeling) or tingling (pins and needles feeling) for weeks or months
  • Swollen toe
  • Thickened, ugly-appearing toenail
  • Diabetes or poor blood flow (poor circulation, vascular disease)
  • Caused by known bunion(s), corns, claw toes, mallet toes, or hammertoes
  • Caused or worsened by exposure to cold
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild toe pain
  • Mild pain and redness of skin around nail (cuticle, nail fold)

Care Advice

Mild Toe Pain

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Toe pain can be caused by many things. Overuse from too much walking, hiking, or dancing can cause pain. A toenail infection or ingrown nail can cause pain. Shoes that are too tight can cause pain. Pain can also be caused by arthritis, gout, bunions, and corns.
    • The best way to treat toe pain will depend on the exact cause.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Cold or Heat:
    • Some people find that a cold or heat pack helps with the pain.
    • Cold Pack: For pain or swelling, use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the sore area for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 times on the first day and then as needed.
    • Heat Pack: If pain lasts over 2 days, apply heat to the sore area. Use a heat pack, heating pad, or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes and then as needed. You can also take a hot bath or hot shower instead. Move the sore area under the warm water.
  3. What to Expect:
    • Pain from overuse should start to get better in a couple days. The pain should go away within one week.
    • Pain from a toenail infection should go away in a couple days of treatment with warm water soaks.
    • Pain and stiffness from arthritis can be chronic. That is, it can last weeks, months or years. Sometimes the pain can flare up and then get better after a couple days.
    • What to expect in other cases will depend on the cause of pain.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Severe pain
    • Pain keeps you from doing normal activities (such as school, work)
    • Pain lasts more than 7 days
    • Signs of infection occur (such as spreading redness, red streak, warmth)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Infected Toenail

  1. What You Should Know:
    • The medical term for a toenail infection is paronychia. This can occur because of an ingrown nail, a hangnail, or from cutting your toenails too short. Often, there is no good reason to explain why it happens.
    • The main symptoms are redness and pain of the skin fold (cuticle) around the nail.
    • Usually you can treat this at home with water soaks and antibiotic ointment. If a pus pocket forms under the skin, you may need to see a doctor to have it drained.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Soak the Toe in Warm Water:
    • Soak the toe in warm water for 15 minutes three times a day.
    • Dry the toe completely.
  3. Antibiotic Ointment:
    • Put an over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic ointment on the red area.
    • Do this 3 times a day.
  4. What to Expect: The redness and pain should get better in 2 to 3 days.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Redness spreads up the toe
    • A pus pocket forms under the skin
    • You are not getting better in 3 days
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Ingrown Toenail

  1. What You Should Know:
    • An ingrown toenail can cause pain where it cuts into the skin. To treat this, that sharp corner of the nail needs to be lifted up, to keep it from cutting into the skin.
    • There are two ways to do this. Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Treating an Ingrown Toenail:
    • Method 1: Place a small amount of Cotton from a cotton ball under the corner of the nail, where it is cutting into your toe.
    • Method 2: Or instead, you can use Dental Floss. Take a short strip of dental floss or fishing line and try to pull it under the corner of the nail. Lift the nail upward. Trim ends of dental floss so that about a half inch (1 cm) is left on each side.
    • Do this every day until it feels better.
  3. What to Expect: The redness and pain should get better in 3 to 7 days.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pain lasts more than 7 days
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Over-the-Counter Pain Medicines

  1. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  2. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have more questions
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Preventing Foot Problems

  1. Foot Care - General:
    • Examine your feet on a regular basis. Check for sores, redness, and calluses.
    • Avoid going barefoot in warm, damp places like locker rooms.
    • Change your socks or hose daily, or when they get damp.
    • If you are overweight, work on losing weight.
  2. Foot Care - Cleaning:
    • Wash your feet daily using a mild soap (such as Dove) and lukewarm water. Rinse off all soap.
    • Dry your feet well, especially between the toes.
    • Put a small amount of lotion (unscented with lanolin) on your feet after bathing. This will help seal moisture in the skin. Do not put lotion between your toes.
  3. Foot Care - Nail Trimming:
    • Trim your toenails straight across. Use a nail clipper. Do not cut down corners. You should be able to see the corners.
    • If you have trouble cutting your toenails, have someone else cut them. Podiatrists can provide nail care.
  4. Wear Shoes That Fit:
    • Shoes should have a wide toe box, so that your toes do not feel cramped.
    • The shoe's toecap should be one finger width longer than your longest toe.
    • When you buy new shoes, buy them later in the day. Reason: feet swell during the day and become larger.
    • Avoid high heels. Heels should not be taller than 2 inches (5 cm).
  5. Wear the Right Shoe for the Right Activity:
    • Wear running shoes for jogging or running.
    • Wear the correct type of protective shoes for your workplace.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have more questions
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 8/19/2019 1:00:30 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:29 AM

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