My Aching Feet: Symptoms of Arthritis in Toes
Arthritis May Attack the Toes
Arthritis commonly attacks joints in the hands, knees, and hips, but it can occur in any part of the body where joints exist—including the toes. A number of different types of arthritis can cause toe pain. Sometimes the cartilage wears away between the bones. Tissues may become inflamed, synovial fluid may drain away, or a bacterial infection may strike. Whatever the cause, symptoms can be difficult to understand at first.
If you’re experiencing toe pain, here are a few clues that arthritis may be the cause.
What Is Toe Arthritis?
Toe arthritis is caused by inflammation of the toe joint. The disease most often attacks the big toe, but the others may be affected as well. Past injuries or traumas, such as a broken or sprained toe, can cause arthritis to settle in down the road. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout may also be to blame.
Risk factors include increased age, being overweight, and family history of the disease. Women who wear tight, high-heeled shoes for much of their lives may also be at risk for toe arthritis.
Symptom #1: Pain
Pain is most likely the first noticeable symptom of arthritis. You may feel a general pain in the toes or on the big toe alone. Patients describe it as ranging from a deep, achy feeling to a sharper, stabbing sensation when they try to move. It may be minor, moderate, or severe depending on the level of deterioration or inflammation in the joint.
Although one of the most common symptoms, pain can also be one of the most debilitating, as it can stop you from enjoying your normal, daily activities.
Symptom #2: Stiffness
Over time time, arthritis wears away at the cartilage between joints, inflames tissues, and damages synovial fluid. All these changes can make joints stiff and difficult to move. With less cushioning and support, joints become resistant to bending and stretching. This can result in difficulty walking, as the toes play a big part in balance and in pushing the foot off the ground. It may hurt when you try to walk because the toe joint moves with every step.
Symptom #3: Swelling
If your toes are swollen, it’s potentially a sign that they could be arthritic. All types of arthritis cause inflammation in the joint, which can result in visible swelling. The toes may turn red and feel warm to the touch.
You may notice this symptom after you have been sitting for a while, or after you get out of bed. Swelling can also make it difficult to put your shoes on in the morning. They may feel too small until you walk around a while and the swelling goes down.
Symptom #4: Clicking and Popping Noises
You know how it sounds when you crack your knuckles? You may start to hear similar sounds in your toes if you have toe arthritis. A grinding noise is a fairly common symptom as well. These sounds are caused by the deterioration of the cartilage that typically cushions the two bones in a joint. As that cartilage wears away, the bones may rub against one another, causing these uncomfortable sounds. If bone spurs develop, they can also cause clicks and cracks.
Symptom #5: Change in Appearance
Does your toe look bigger than it used to? Is it starting to rotate away from your foot? These occurrences can be symptoms of toe arthritis. As the cartilage wears away and the bone grinds against bone, the body attempts to make the situation better. Its solution: creating more bone.
Although this may stabilize the joint, it can also make it appear larger, or like it has a big bump on it, not unlike the appearance of having bunions. It may send the toe off in a new direction, creating a curved shape or what is sometimes called “claw feet.”
Symptom #6: Heat
When inflammation brings more blood to your toes, you may feel a sense of warmth or heat in the area. It can be mildly irritating, but it usually doesn’t interfere with your daily activities. At the same time, you may also see redness on the skin around the joints, and they may become tender to the touch.
Symptom #7: Locked Joint
A locked joint can happen when there is so much swelling and stiffness that the joint is no longer able to bend at all. Rough edges on the bones and bone spurs can also cause a joint to lock up. It may feel like the toe is stuck, and it can be painful. This is usually not a permanent condition. You may have to walk around for a while, or try to manipulate the toe to bend again.
Symptom #8: Difficulty Walking
All of these symptoms can make walking extremely painful and difficult. You may find yourself adjusting your gait as you try to put less weight on your toes. You might even choose to stop exercising. Unfortunately, these kinds of changes can affect the rest of your body, causing hip or back pain, weight gain, and other problems.
Those with arthritis in the big toe are particularly susceptible to immobility. Check with your doctor right away. There are treatments, orthotics, physical therapy, and special shoes that can all help you feel better and stay active.
- Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle. (2008, September). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00209
- Psoriatic arthritis: Symptoms. (2010, December 9). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/psoriatic-arthritis/DS00476/DSECTION=symptoms
- What Is Arthritis? (n.d.). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://www.arthritis.org/about-us/arthritis-is/