Your pinky toe may be small — but if it gets injured it can hurt big time.
Pain in the fifth toe is actually very common and can have many causes, including a break or sprain, tight-fitting shoes, a corn, bone spur, or some other factor.
Here’s a look at the possible causes of a painful pinky toe and what you can do.
Your pinky toe is prone to injury because of its location on the outside of your foot. The metatarsal bones leading to the fifth toe are one of the most common locations for foot injuries, especially for athletes.
If your toe is swollen and painful, and home remedies don’t help, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.
Proper treatment early on can help ensure that your toe heals correctly and it doesn’t lead to any other issues.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common causes for a painful small toe.
If you stub your toe really hard, or if you have a direct blow to your foot from a heavy object, your toe could be broken. A break is also called a fracture.
If you experience an open fracture, which includes an open wound or tear in the skin, you should see a doctor immediately.
The most common symptoms of a broken pinky toe include:
- a popping sound when the injury occurs
- throbbing pain that’s immediate and may fade after a few hours
- difficulty putting weight on your foot
- pinky toe seeming out of alignment
- swelling and bruising
- a damaged toenail
Your doctor will likely X-ray your toe to examine the type of break. They’ll look for displacement, bone fragments, stress fractures, and injury to the metatarsal bones that connect to your pinky toe.
Treatment depends on the kind of break you have:
- If the toe bones are in alignment, your doctor may have you wear a walking boot or cast to immobilize the toe bones while they heal.
- For a simple break, your doctor may splint your pinky to your fourth toe to keep it in place while it heals.
- If the break is serious, surgery may be necessary to reset the bone.
- Your doctor will likely recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, rest, and home care.
A stress fracture, also known as a hairline fracture, is a small crack or bruise that develops within the bone over time. This typically happens from repetitive activities like high-impact sports that involve running and jumping.
Pain is the most common symptom of a stress fracture, and it can gradually get worse over time, especially if you continue putting weight on it. The pain is typically worse during activity and eases if you rest your foot.
Other common symptoms include:
If you think you may have a stress fracture, you can perform the RICE method until you’re able to see a doctor. This involves:
- Rest: Try to avoid putting weight on your foot or toe.
- Ice: Use a cold pack (ice or ice pack wrapped in a moist cloth or towel) on your toe for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
- Compression: Wrap a bandage around your toe.
- Elevation: Rest with your foot raised up higher than your chest.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin can help ease the pain and swelling.
Depending on the severity, stress fractures are often treated similarly to breaks.
Two other types of metatarsal fractures may also cause pain on the outside of your foot, including your pinky toe. This includes:
- Avulsion fracture. This happens when a tendon or ligament that’s attached to the metatarsal bone is injured and pulls a small piece of bone away with it. This tends to happen in sports, especially with sudden turns.
- Jones fracture. This is a break at the base of the fifth metatarsal bone.
With both types of fractures, the most common symptoms include:
- pain in the area of the fracture
- bruising and swelling of the foot
- pain when you try to put weight on your injured foot
When you bang your toe or stretch it too far backward, you can separate one pinky toe bone from another. This is called a dislocated toe.
Dislocation is fairly common among athletes and people over 65.
Your pinky and all the other toes, with the exception of your big toe, have 3 bones. Dislocation can occur at any of these joints.
The dislocation can be partial, which means the bones aren’t completely separated. This is known as subluxation. A full dislocation is when the bone is intact but completely out of its normal position.
It’s possible to dislocate one toe bone and also have an injury to another toe bone, such as a fracture.
The most common symptoms of a dislocated pinky toe include:
- pain when you move the toe
- a crooked appearance
- numbness or a pins-and-needles feeling
Your doctor will examine your toe to feel for a dislocation. They may take an X-ray to confirm a diagnosis.
Sometimes other tests may be necessary to check if you have damage to your blood vessels or nerves.
In most cases, a doctor can manually put the dislocated bone back into position. This realignment is called a closed reduction. You may have a local anesthetic for this procedure so you don’t feel any pain.
Depending on how serious the dislocation is, you may need to wear an elastic bandage, splint, cast, or walking boot to keep the toe in alignment while it heals.
In some cases you may need surgery to fit the dislocated bone back into position. This is known as open reduction.
A sprained toe involves injury to a ligament, not your toe’s bone.
Ligaments are the connective tissue fibers that attach bones to each other and to joints. They’re different from tendons, which are the connective tissues that attach muscle to bones.
You can sprain your toe by bumping it hard or stretching it beyond its normal range of motion.
A sprained toe can be painful, but you’ll usually be able to walk on it.
The most common symptoms of a sprained pinky toe include:
- pain while moving the toe
- a throbbing sensation
- tenderness to the touch
- joint instability
Treatment for a sprained pinky toe depends on the severity of the sprain. Sprains are categorized in 3 grades:
- Grade I: minimal pain and loss of function
- Grade II: moderate pain and difficulty putting weight on the toe
- Grade III: severe pain and an inability to put weight on the toe
For grade I sprains, you may only need to rest and ice your toe and possibly do buddy taping.
For grades II or III, your doctor may recommend additional measures, such as a walking boot.
A tailor’s bunion, also called a bunionette, is a bony bump on the outside of the base of your pinky. It can cause your pinky toe to become very painful.
Tailor’s bunions can be caused by an inherited abnormal structure of your foot, where the metatarsal bone moves outward while the pinky toe moves inward.
It can also be caused by shoes that are too narrow in the toe.
In both cases, the resulting bump gets irritated by shoes that rub against it.
The most common symptoms include:
- a bump on the toe that starts small but grows over time
- pain at the bunion site
Depending on the severity of your pain, your doctor may recommend:
- wearing shoes that have a wide toe box and avoiding shoes with high heels and pointy toes
- putting soft padding over the painful area
- orthotics to relieve pressure on the area
- a corticosteroid injection to reduce inflammation
In some cases, if pain interferes with your daily activities, or the bunion is more severe, your doctor may recommend surgery.
A corn consists of hardened layers of skin. It typically develops from your skin’s response to friction and pressure, like a shoe that’s too tight.
A hard corn on the outside of your pinky toe can be painful, especially if your shoe rubs against it. If the corn is deep set, it may lead to entrapment of a nerve or bursa (fluid-filled sacs around your joints).
The most common symptoms of a corn include:
- a tough, rough, yellowing patch of skin
- skin that’s sensitive to the touch
- pain when wearing shoes
Your doctor may:
- shave a corn or advise you to file it after bathing
- recommend soft padding to relieve pressure on the corn
- recommend wearing wider shoes or stretching the toe box of your shoes
Several types of toe abnormalities can make your pinky toe painful, uncomfortable, or swollen.
- A hammer toe is when your toe bends downward instead of straight ahead. It can be caused by an injury to the toe, arthritis, ill-fitting shoes, or a very high arch. Some people may be born with this condition.
- A claw toe is when your toe bends into a claw-like position. You may be born with a claw toe, or it may develop as a result of diabetes or another disease. If not treated, your toes can freeze into a claw position.
Other toes may also develop corns or calluses because of the abnormal pressure on them.
- For both hammer toe and claw toe, your doctor may recommend a splint or taping to keep your toes in the proper position.
- For a claw toe, your doctor may recommend exercises to keep your toe flexible.
- For ongoing problems that don’t improve with conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct the toe.
Overlapping pinky toe
Some people are born with a pinky toe that overlaps the fourth toe. It’s thought to be inherited. In some cases, it can cause pain and discomfort. In about
Sometimes children born with this condition self-correct as they begin walking.
The first line of treatment is to use conservative therapies to try to reposition the pinky toe. This can include taping, splinting, and corrective shoes.
If these therapies aren’t effective and pain persists, surgery may be performed.
Depending on the cause of the pain in your little toe, taking care of the pain at home with the right self-care measures may be all you need to feel better.
If the cause of the pain is something more serious that needs medical attention, you can follow these self-care measures until you see your doctor.
To help ease the pain in your pinky toe:
- Rest your foot and toe as much as possible. Try to avoid putting weight on your toe.
- Use crutches or a cane to help you get around without putting pressure on your toe.
- Elevate your foot so that it’s higher than chest level.
- Ice your foot for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day, for the first few days after an injury. You can use ice, an ice pack, or bags of frozen vegetables wrapped in a moist towel or cloth.
- Take an OTC pain medication to help with the pain and inflammation.
- Use moleskin or padding to prevent your painful pinky from coming into direct contact with your footwear.
Your toes play an important role in keeping you balanced as you move, whether you’re barefoot or wearing shoes. Your pinky is the smallest toe, but it’s crucial in helping you to maintain your balance.
It helps to think of your foot as having a triangular base of balance. The triangle is formed by 3 points: your big toe, your pinky toe, and your heel. Damage to any part of that triangle can throw off your balance.
So, it makes sense that if your pinky toe gets hurts, it may throw off your balance and affect how you walk and move.
Be sure to get medical attention if you have intense pain or swelling in your pinky toe, are unable to put any pressure on it, or its out of alignment.
Structural abnormalities can also be remedied with medical treatment.
Less severe conditions, such as a mild sprain, can usually resolve with good home care and OTC products. Sometimes wearing good-fitting shoes with a wide toe box may correct what’s making your pinky toe painful.