Toe pain - causes, treatment and prevention

Toe pain - causes, treatment and prevention

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Pain in the toes - when walking becomes torture

We all know aching toes, and the cause is usually harmless: our shoes squeeze, especially on the big or small toes, and we put a lot of strain on our toes during long hikes. Even before the rest of the foot hurts, we notice the discomfort in the toe area.

Causes of toe pain

Toe pain usually has a harmless cause that we also know ourselves, namely shoes that are too tight or badly cut. Depending on how hard the shoe presses, our toes hurt after a few hundred meters or after a long hike. The shoe can generally be too small if, for example, we wear shoe size 40 even though we have 42. Or it is the right size, but there is no freedom for the toes in the front area.

This may be due to the poor quality of the shoes, but also to our feet. If you have flat feet, pointed Italian patent shoes are not suitable.

A classic for toe and foot pain are women's shoes with high heels. Although they look good, they bend the foot at an angle that does not correspond to the natural position. The slope places an extreme strain on the toes - the sole-walker inevitably becomes a toe-walker.

This pain is not to be trifled with - unlike shoes that are only too tight, high-heeled shoes can permanently deform the toes. Such a misalignment ensures that the pain becomes chronic.

The friction irritates the skin, the tightness squeezes in particular the small toe and digs up the skin. Blisters hurt too.

An ingrown toenail, cornea, arthrosis and gout also cause pain.


Accidents are more serious than tight shoes, be it a bent foot while exercising or a bar falling on the big toe: bruises, bruises and sprains are the result, in the worse case toe bones break.

While an overloaded foot in a tight shoe quickly relaxes when we pull out of the oppressive prison, sprains and fractures can only heal if we protect the foot for a long time.

Painful toes caused by warts

Warts on the toes cause pain, especially if they form on the transition between the ball of the foot and the toe. Then they press automatically while running. Such a wart should treat those affected or have it removed by a doctor. Smaller warts in particular can be effectively combated with anti-warts, especially acids. A doctor can cut out the wart.

Plucking, scratching, pulping or rubbing must be taboo for warts so that they do not spread to other parts of the body. Those affected should also not walk barefoot because the small skin growths are very contagious.

Cause gout

If your toes hurt all the time without your shoes being too tight, you haven't bumped your toes, or you see other triggers, gout could be the cause. Too much uric acid then collects in the joints.

Gout in the joint in the big toe is typical. The joint becomes inflamed and swells, which creates additional pressure on the inside of the shoe, which increases the pain.

Risk factors

You are at particular risk of aching toes if you have arthritis, are overweight and put so much weight on your toes, you often jump and run, they are very old or very young, or you have to stand a lot.

Toe pain treatment

If our shoes are too tight, we don't need a doctor, we need other shoes. The situation is different when pain is painful to us, without us knowing the trigger and without noticing any external damage.

A doctor can X-ray the foot to determine if a toe is broken. In the event of a fracture, sprain or bruise, the doctor bandages or plastered the toe. The toe should remain calm until the injury has healed.

In any case, you can cool the aching toe yourself. This promotes healing and relieves the discomfort.

If there is an infection, antibiotics help to reduce the inflammation.

Warts can freeze or burn, then you can pull them off with the epidermis. Such tinctures are also available without a doctor's prescription. However, it is advisable to consult a doctor beforehand to avoid risks.

The specialist is in demand for gout. For example, patients should follow a diet that reduces uric acid and take appropriate medication. Early gout is easy to treat.

Prevention of toe pain

Most problems can be avoided with good shoes. If the shoes do not squeeze, have a comfortable sole and the toes can be moved, we prevent pain in this area. You can check new shoes by testing whether all your toes can be moved up, down and sideways. If this is the case, there are probably no complaints even after long hikes.

For sports that put a particular strain on your toes such as jogging, sprinting, foot or handball, but also for outdoor trekking, there are special shoes with an ideal fit, air cushions in the soles and extra feeding. Without such special jogging, running or hiking shoes, you should not do the respective sport. Or vice versa: If you hike through the Scottish Highlands and put on pointed pumps, you will certainly dig your toes - if you dance the night with high heels, you can be happy if "only" the toes hurt.

A good shoe not only leaves enough space for the heel and toes, it also absorbs strong impacts and thus protects the toe joints.

Toe pain from ingrown nail

The big toe nail usually grows in. The nail presses into the sensitive nail bed, which then ignites. We often cause this ourselves if we wear long-lasting pressure shoes in which the nails cannot grow normally or cut the nails incorrectly.

The infection often worsens because the damaged tissue opens the door for bacteria. Wild meat also proliferates when the wound heals.

Additional problems arise when the patient cuts the ingrown nail even shorter. To avoid state pain, they ensure that the nail edge is pushed further and further into the tissue.

Self-treatment is of little use here. As a rule, a doctor has to remove the ingrown nail with surgery. The anesthetic syringe hurts because the doctor usually injects it into the sensitive skin between the big toe and the neighboring toe, but the newly formed nail will probably grow back normally.

In any case, patients should wear sandals without stockings after such an operation so that there is no pressure on the tissue. If the toe is purulently inflamed, antibiotics are also required to kill the bacteria responsible.

Prevent toenails from growing in

Prevent ingrown toenails by cutting your toenails regularly. The nails grow in because they are too long. The ingrown nails become inflamed and cause severe pain.

Often the toenails are cut incorrectly. False means that the edges are cut down too much. This will cause the nails to grow in easily.

Tight shoes press the skin against the nail, so the nail can grow in quickly. Strong sweaty feet also promote ingrowth because this softens the skin around the nail. So make sure you wear comfortable shoes and air your feet regularly. It is even more important than washing your feet to go barefoot or in sandals more often.

You should pay particular attention to such measures if you are anatomically inclined to ingrown toenails. This always happens when you have a wider nail bed than the average.

Diagnosis and conservative therapy

The diagnosis is easy because those affected almost always know that an ingrown nail causes the pain.

As part of the treatment, the affected nail should first be “tapped”. To do this, place padded plaster between the nail and nail bed to give the toe more air between the skin and the nail. The pain goes away immediately because the pressure subsides.

A foot bath softens the skin, making it easier to apply ointments and plasters afterwards. Very hot foot baths also promote blood circulation and soften the skin for ointments such as fucidine ointment.

Nail correction braces give a form of growth when the nail is too round on the sides. Such clips are made of plastic or wire. The patient uses it for half a year or more and pulls the ingrown nail out of the nail bed with it. Without surgery, the nail grows again. The disadvantage of this method is that the process takes a long time.

Ingrown toenail surgery

An operation is more painful, but shorter. After the local anesthetic, the doctor removes the ingrown nail corners and the wild meat. Then he puts a bandage around his toe. The patient must be followed up regularly to see if the nail grows normally and the inflammation disappears.

After the operation, the tissue is very sensitive. Those affected should prevent any pressure on the area and change the dressing every three days.

Surgery is almost always the first choice for late treatment. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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