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Swollen Big Toe Causes, Symptoms, Painless and Treatments

Do you have swollen big toe? Whether painful or painless, itchy or not itchy,  this can be due to a number of causes. On severity, it will depend on the causes and how fast and effectively treat them. Here are the possible causes, symptoms, and means of treating it that include medication and prevention.


Usually swelling in the big toe can be very painful and trigger irritation. It may be mild or severe and can involve redness, itching, and inflammation of other symptoms. You deserve to know that causes which may vary with age and gender-some causes are specific to certain gender or age. Here are common causes of big swollen toe:

1. Ingrown toenail (onychocryptosis)

Ingrown big toe
Ingrown nail

This is condition whereby the nails grows or cuts into nails beds. “It is a painful condition in which the nail grows or cuts into one or both sides of the nail bed.” [Disabled-world.com]. This is a common condition that commonly occurs with toenails but can also occur in fingernails.

Once it has happened the condition may encourage bacterial infections. If infected, the area may be red, itchy and warm if not attended to with proper medication. Causes of ingrown nails in toes are improper cutting of toenails, tight-fitting footwear as well as traumatic injury to the foot. Certain ingrown toenails are chronic accompanied by pain in the big toe, infections, irritation, redness, warmth, and swelling.

Antiseptics and antibiotics can be used to treat an ingrown toenail. You should also soak ut with warm water four times in a day. Surgery may also be carried out to remove a corner of the nail, larger portion of the nail or just the entire nail. Wearing sizable footwear is also another good idea.

2. Sesamoid injuries in the foot

Sesamoid injuries in the foot
Sesamoid injuries in the foot

The sesamoid is a bone fixed in a tendon. They are found in several joints in the body. In your foot, they are located in the ball of the foot beneath the big toe joint. It acts as a pulley to the tendons and helps the big toe to move normally. It aids you when you walk, jump or run.

Therefore, sesamoid injuries involve the tendons, bones and the surrounding tissue in the joint. Any activity that increases the pressure in the ball of the foot can lead to this injury and hence pain in the toe joint. Dropping heavy objects on it, running, football, the frequent wearing of high-heeled shoes are the triggering factors. Here are the types of Sesamoid injuries in the foot.

  • Turf toe-injury of the soft tissue surrounding the big toe joint due to its extended beyond the normal range
  • Fracture-this is a break in the Sesamoid bone that can be acute or chronic
  • Sesamoiditis-it is an overuse injury that involves that involves recurrent inflammation of the Sesamoid bones and tendons (Tendonitis). It is triggered by increased pressure on the sesamoids.

Sesamoid foot injuries can be avoided by exercise, taking good care your feet, wearing sizable shoes, avoiding walking long distances and avoid running on rough surfaces.

Painkillers can also be used to relieve pain in the toe joint. Physical therapies and surgeries can also be performed depending on the causes.

3. Gout

Gout can also cause big toe swelling
Gout can also cause big toe swelling

Gout is another common cause this problem but can also affect other toes. In this condition, uric acid crystals build up in the joints space leading to periodic flare-ups.

Normally kidneys take care of filtering and removing uric acid but sometimes the kidney may not perform this action appropriately especially when the body produces too much acid.

The accumulation of uric acid crystal in the big toe joint will lead to gout symptoms such as intense pain, redness, warmth, inflammation, tenderness, and swelling.

This condition is usually diagnosed based on the patterns of the inflammation. Causes of gout in the foot are, food having high purine level, genetics, certain medications, and obesity. Proper diagnosis will really assist as far as gout symptoms and treatment is concerned.

Gout can be treated using Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), Corticosteroids and ice therapy. Colchicine can also be used but it has several side effects. Refraining from foods that cause gout is also a good idea.

4. Osteoarthritis (OA)

This is a common type of arthritis that can affect any joint in the body. It occurs when the cartilage in the joint wear and tear or when they get damaged. This will make the bones to get exposed and rub against each other leading to pain and toe swelling which can, in turn, limit the range of motion. The risk of developing this condition usually depends on age. “Your risk of OA increases as you age” [Healthline.com].

Swollen big toe due to Osteoarthritis (OA)
Due to Osteoarthritis (OA)

Such factors as obesity, poor diet, trauma, unhealthy blood sugar levels and overuse injuries can lead to osteoarthritis.

Remedies for this condition include custom-made insoles, splints, braces, walking sticks. You doctor can also recommend steroids injections. Stretches and exercise are also equally better.

Surgical procedures can also be applied to remove damaged cartilage and fix the joint in a permanent position.

5. Bunions

Bunions on can also make your big to to swell
Bunions on can also make it to swell

This condition makes the first joint of the big toe to slant outwards and therefore tending to misplace the second and the third one.

According to Footcare.org, “Bunions are misaligned big toe joints that can become swollen and tender, causing the first joint of the big toe to slant outward, and the second joint to angle toward the other toes.”

This condition sometimes tends to be hereditary but it can also be worsened by wearing narrow footwear. Remember bursitis comes in when it tends to angle towards the second toe.

Bunions can cause the metatarsophalangeal joint to enlarge and protrude. The skin over it can also be red and tender. Other symptoms are swellings and sharp pain in toes. Severe bunions may cause difficulty in walking. Bottom foot pain can also result from this condition.

Usually, bunions are treated using wider and softer shoes and pads to relieve the pressure. When this is not effective, Bunions surgery (bunionectomy) can be applied to realign the bone, ligaments, tendons and nerves. This will make it to turn back to its correct position.

6. Diabetic Foot Problems

Diabetic foot problems
Diabetic foot problems

Diabetes is a health condition that occurs when the amount of glucose (sugar) it too high in the blood. This disease causes several foot problems. It causes peripheral vascular disease and diabetic neuropathy. These two disorders can then cause diabetic ulcers, infections, gangrene (dead tissues due to improper circulation of blood, Charcot arthropathy and amputation in the foot.

Symptoms of diabetic include pain in the big toe, tingling sensation, warmth, discoloration and swelling.

Treatments for diabetes include gastric bypass surgery, insulin injections and exercise and special diet

7.  Vascular disease

This is the narrowing of the arteries hence limiting the amount of blood and oxygen leading to the legs and feet. This can also lead to swelling but doctors say that it is usually not accompanied by intense pain.

Vascular disease
Vascular disease

This condition can be contributed to by consumption of fatty foods, so reestablishing proper diet can help. You doctor can prescribe more medications to treat this disorder.

8.  Foot Corns and Calluses

The big toe can also swell due to what we call corns and calluses

Foot Corns and Calluses
Foot Corns and Calluses

These are bump-like protecting layers that grow on a skin that has been under repetitive stress in the foot.  They are common in the smaller toe but can also affect the bigger one. They are aggravated by tight-fitting footwear and their risks also increase with age.

Wearing wider and softer shoes can help but in severe cases, surgery treatments may be needed.

9.  More causes 

Apart from the discussed causes above, the following can also cause this problem.

  • Rheumatoid as well as other seronegative arthritides
  • Certain medications
  • Liver cirrhosis, kidney failure and heart failure
  • Allergies and irritations
  • Insect bites and shingles
  • Bacterial and fungal infections that can lead to sore big toe
  • Vitamin deficiency (poor diet)

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms will depend on the various causes. The symptoms can be mild while others can be very severe to an extent that walking may be a problem. Below are the summarized or general symptoms and signs of swollen big toe:

  • Pain and irritation
  • Redness or discoloration
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty in bending it
  • Stiffness of the joint
  • Difficulty with footwear
  • Bruising
  • Drainage
  • Venous thrombosis (blood clot)

How is diagnosis done?

When you visit your doctor or physician, he/she may ask you questions about the underlying symptoms, your daily activities as well as your medical background. This questions really help to carry out a perfect diagnostic test to determine the causes.

The doctor may give you a physical examination and ask you to submit your blood sample for testing certain conditions such as gout or infections

The medical professional can also perform X-ray, MRIs, and CT scans tests to determine whether it is swollen due to broken toe or damaged surrounding tissue.  A proper diagnostic test will determine the right and proper treatments.

Not Painful

It is normal to have it swollen but pain-free but if you don’t treat it, you may develop some pain. Common causes of this condition include drainage from the knee (due to gravity), diabetes, corns and calluses among others.

Pain-free swollen toe due to corns and calluses can be painful with putting on footwear. So the fact that they are not painful when you don’t wear tight-fitting footwear is not a ticket not to find their treatments. All swollen toes whether painful or painless should be given proper medical treatments.

Swollen big toe vs. age and gender

It is very true that the risk of suffering from this problem increases with age.  Some causes such osteoarthritis will have their risk factors increasing with age. On the other hand, some causes may be specific to certain genders like corns and calluses are more common in women than in men.

Gout for example, which is the major cause of the swelling, is known to vary with age and gender. According to Foot-pain-explored.com, “Men tend to suffer from the condition at a younger age than women due to higher levels of uric acid.  After the menopause, uric acid level rise in women increases the risk of the condition and only 15% of female sufferers are pre-menopausal”

Swollen toe due to traumatic injuries or breakage may be prevalent in people aged 35 and below since they do engage in risky activities such as sports, walking long distances, running e.t.c. To be brief and clear, young people are vulnerable to feet injuries than the aged. Up to here, I think it is evident the age and gender can dictate the occurrence of the swelling.


Treatments for swollen big toe will depend on the cause and the severity of the swelling. There are various over the counter medications that can be used e.g. painkillers such as ibuprofen to relieve mild pains and inflammation.

One may also get relief from wider and softer shoes, inserts, padding as well as the method known as RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). This method is just effective for mild cases of swellings. For moderate to severe swellings, the following non-surgical methods can be used:

  • Prescription of pain medications
  • Application of corticosteroid injections
  • The specialist may recommend you perform routine stretching exercise
  • Stronger anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed for infected ingrown toenails
  • In severe cases, surgical procedures are always prescribed

Again, not to overemphasis, effective treatment will be prescribed by your medical specialist depending on the causes of this problem. This means that, besides what we have mentioned here, the doctor may have other medical options to prescribe depending on the primary causes.


Below are some tips to that can help you prevent big toe from swelling or reoccurring:

  • Always wear proper shoe; that offer balance, support and stability and have wide toe boxes
  • Do regular exercise to make your ankles, feet and lower leg strong
  • Medications that limit uric acid levels can also be helpful. They include allopurinol and febuxostat
  • If you are suffering from gout, then seek nutritional advice from professionals
  • Make sure you drink plenty fluids during exercises
  • You must see your podiatrist on a regular basis specifically if you have diabetes or when you notice the first signs of symptoms
  • Limit alcohol intake more so if you are taking beer which have high content of purine
  • Increase taking of vitamin C but consult your doctor before taking any supplement
  • You should take care of any injury. Wear protective gears when participating In sports
  • Maintain healthy shape


Swelling in the big toe is usually not life-threatening but can also be a sign of serious medical conditions that can be very dreadful if not given early medical attention. Therefore, make sure you see your doctor the very first day you discover symptoms which is not due to mild normal injury.

Remember swellings due to traumatic injury just lasts for few days or weeks but complicated toe swelling that may be due to body organ disorders can be chronic.  Be very close to your doctor if you have an unexplained swollen big toe.

Our References
  1. http://www.webmd.com/arthritis/swollen-joints-joint-effusion#1
  2. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/foot-pain/pages/introduction.aspx
  3. http://www.healthline.com/health/osteoarthritis/big-toe
  4. http://www.footvitals.com/toes/big-toe-pain.html
  5. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00168
  6. http://www.livestrong.com/article/505058-a-hard-swollen-toe/
  7. https://www.healthgrades.com/symptoms/toe-swelling
  8. http://www.foot-pain-explored.com/toe-joint-pain.html
  9.  http://www.healthcentral.com/chronic-pain/c/question/746117/160503/

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