Big Toe Hurts Sharply: Causes and Treatments

The human foot contains many different tendons, ligaments, and muscles, including 26 different bones, 19 of which are located in the toes themselves. Things you do every day while on your feet, such as walking and standing, and certain recreational activities, can put a great deal of stress on the feet, especially if you are overweight. This can result in injury to the foot, including having a sharp pain in the big toe.

What Causes Sharp Pain in Big Toe?

There are many factors that can lead to sharp pain in your big toe. Some of them are common and can happen to anyone, while others are less common and occur relatively rarely. These include the following causes:

1.   Hallux Rigidus

This is also called "hallux limitus" and is a condition where you have stiffness in your big toe that can lead to sharp pain in it. The joint involved is at the base of the great toe. It is a type of degenerative arthritis that may be caused by overuse of the toe or structural abnormalities of the toe. The pain and stiffness are usually worse after standing or walking for long periods of time or when the weather is cold outside. There can be swelling and inflammation associated with it.

2.   Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis that occurs when you have excessive amounts of uric acid in your bloodstream. It forms crystals in the joint of the great toe, resulting in sharp pain in big toe. The pain can be very severe and sensitive even to the lightest touch to the toe. Men have a greater risk of gout, but women after menopause can get it as well. Other symptoms you'll see include swelling and redness at the base of the great toe.

3.   Tendonitis of the Big Toe

Your tendons are made from connective tissues and connect the bones to the muscles. There are tendons across the top and bottom of your feet that help your toes wiggle up and down. If you overstress these muscles, you can develop an inflamed tendon called tendonitis, which can result in sharp pain in great toe. The great toe tendon is especially prone to getting tendonitis. This is because you can have tightness in the calf that stresses the tendon during exercise or when you have fallen arches.

4.   Bunion

A bunion happens when you wear shoes that are too tight, which causes a bump to develop at the base of the great toe. It is also called hallux valgus. Besides the bump, there will be a shifted position of the great toe so that it moves toward the smaller toes. The bump can become red and irritated if your shoes are too tight. Most cases are not from disease itself, but some people can have rheumatoid arthritis that can cause a bunion-like deformity of the foot, causing sharp pain in big toe.

5.   Osteoarthritis

This affects all the toes of the foot, especially the big toe. It is caused by excessive wear and tear of the feet joints and is associated with stiffness and pain in the joints. Trauma to the great toe can also cause osteoarthritis of the toe. It is more common in older individuals. Other types of arthritis affecting the great toe include psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

6.   Sesamoiditis

This is an inflammation of the sesamoid bones, which are two tiny bones that sit at the base of the great toe. They are inserted inside the tendon that allows the great toe to flex downward. Sesamoiditis occurs when the toe suffers from some kind of acute or chronic trauma and the area becomes inflamed. It is often caused by sporting activities that depend on balancing on the toes, such as basketball and ballet dancing. If the sesamoid bone becomes fractured, it can also cause a sharp pain in the big toe.

7.   Turf Toe

This is commonly due to a sports-related injury, such as a football injury. The pain is located on the base of the big toe and stems from a sprain of one of the ligaments of the great toe. It is commonly caused by stubbing the toe on artificial turf while playing soccer or football.

When Should You See a Doctor for Sharp Pain in Big Toe?

If you are suffering from a great deal of pain in the big toe and have no known reason behind it, you should see a doctor who specializes in ankle and food diseases. In the vast majority of cases, the doctor can diagnose and treat the underlying cause or injury fairly early on so that there are no complications from the occurrence.

The doctor may need to perform some tests in order to properly diagnose the condition. The tests consist of x-rays or other imaging studies, cultures of any lesions, blood tests and urine tests. If you experience symptoms you cannot explain, see the doctor for further advice, diagnosis and management.

How to Deal With Sharp Pain in Big Toe

There are various ways to deal with this problem. The treatments depend on the cause of the pain and how serious it is.

If you suffer from gout, for example, you may need to take medications to reduce uric acid and eat foods that do not produce uric acid. If the problem is from a bunion, on the other hand, you may need to have surgery to correct the problem. Poor circulation as a cause of pain may need the expertise of a vascular specialist, while if the cause is an infected toenail, it may need to be excised and you may need antibiotic therapy.Some people need to have shoes that are wider or must have orthotics or inserts put inside the shoes.

Common medical treatment includes taking ibuprofen or naproxen, which are anti-inflammatory medications that can treat the pain and reduce the inflammation.

The RICE technique is a good choice for dealing with the pain. RICE means "rest, ice, compression, and elevation". It is a common technique for relieving pain and inflammation. Pain that does not require surgery can also be treated with the following methods:

  • Routine stretching exercises
  • Anti-inflammatory medication you get with a prescription
  • Other prescription pain medications
  • Injections of corticosteroids
  • Physical therapy on the feet
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