Your big toe is instrumental in helping you move and keep your balance, but it’s not a part of your body that you spend much time thinking about.
But the moment your big toe has any sort of out-of-the-ordinary sensitivity, you think about it with every step you take.
Your big toe could be swollen for a number of reasons. These include:
- an ingrown toenail
- a fracture
- a bunion
- hallux rigidus
How do you get an ingrown toenail?
Often an ingrown toenail is the result of improper nail trimming, including trimming toenails too short and tapering the corners of the nail to match the curves of the shape of your toe.
Shoes that are too small can also result in an ingrown toenail.
How do I know that my big toenail is ingrown?
In the early stages of an ingrown nail, your toe may become hard, swollen, and tender.
As it progresses it may become red, infected, very sore, and pus might drain from it. Eventually, the skin on the sides of your toenail might start to grow over the nail.
How do I treat an ingrown toenail?
The first level of treatment is to soak your foot in warm, soapy water at least three times each day.
After the last soak of the day, gently lift the edge of the ingrown toenail and insert some cotton between the skin and the nail. You must change this cotton packing every day.
If you’ve developed an infection, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic.
If the pain is intense or you’re unable to stop the infection, your doctor may recommend a partial nail plate avulsion — removal of part of the ingrown toenail.
If the ingrown toenail becomes a chronic problem, your doctor might suggest a complete nail plate avulsion — removal of your whole ingrown toenail — or a surgical procedure that permanently removes the formative part of the toenail.
While you’re going through this process, wear clean socks and consider wearing sandals or another type of open-toed shoe.
Broken or fractured toe
How do you break your big toe?
The most common causes for breaking your big toe include stubbing your toe or dropping something on it.
How do I know my big toe is broken?
The most common symptoms of a broken toe are:
How do I treat a broken big toe?
Sometimes you can immobilize your broken toe by taping it to the toe next to it, but you may need a cast. In certain cases, surgery is required to ensure proper healing.
Your toe will typically heal in four to six weeks. You should visit a doctor to ensure it heals properly.
Also known as hallux valgus, bunions are a progressive disorder that reflects changes in the bony framework of your foot.
It starts with the big toe leaning toward the second toe, and over time the angle of the bones change and produce an increasingly protruding bump. This throws the bones out of alignment — producing the bunion’s bump.
How do you get a bunion?
The majority of bunions are caused by a specific mechanical structure of the foot that’s inherited.
If you wear shoes that crowd your toes and spend a lot of time on your feet, it won’t cause bunions — but this could cause the problem to get worse.
How do I know I have a bunion?
Aside from the swelling on the first joint of your big toe, you may also experience:
- soreness or pain
- redness or inflammation
- a burning sensation
How do I treat a bunion?
The initial treatment typically includes:
- wearing shoes that fit properly
- wearing orthotics
- putting padding on the area
- avoiding activity that causes pain such as long periods standing
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
If the pain of a bunion becomes problematic, your doctor might recommend surgery as the next level of treatment.
Gout is a painful form of arthritis that’s often focused on the big toe.
How do you get gout?
Gout is caused by too much uric acid in your body.
How do I know I have gout?
Often, the first indication is pain that can be intense. The pain might be accompanied by other symptoms such as:
- feeling hot to the touch
How do I treat gout?
To manage the pain, your doctor might recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, steroids, and colchicine.
They might also suggest making diet and lifestyle changes including:
- losing weight
- limiting alcohol consumption
- eating less red meat
If you experience chronic gout, your doctor may recommend drugs to lower uric acid levels in the blood such as:
Hallux rigidus is a form of degenerative arthritis that causes pain and stiffness of the joint at the base of the big toe.
How do you get hallux rigidus?
Common causes of hallux rigidus include:
- structural abnormalities such as fallen arches or excessive rolling in (pronation) of the ankles
- overuse in activities that increase the stress on the big toe
- inflammatory diseases, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis
How do I know I have hallux rigidus?
The main symptoms are swelling and inflammation, plus pain and stiffness in the big toe that’s especially noticeable when you walk or stand.
You might also find that the pain and stiffness are aggravated by damp or cold, damp weather.
As the condition progresses, symptoms might include:
- toe pain, even when you’re resting
- the development of bone spurs
- hip, knee, and back pain caused by your change of gait when you favor the affected toe
- increasing difficulty in bending your toe
How do I treat hallux rigidus?
In many cases, early treatment may prevent or postpone the need for surgery in the future.
Treatment for mild or moderate cases of hallux rigidus may include:
- properly fitting shoes
- OTC pain medication such as Tylenol or ibuprofen
- corticosteroid injections
Your big toe can be swollen for a number of reasons.
If the pain is intense or you have other unusual symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor for a diagnosis.
If you’re concerned about your big toe and don’t already have a primary care provider, you can view doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.