Overview

A swollen toe looks larger than normal — and larger compared to other toes — due to the accumulation of fluid in the tissue of the toe. There are often other symptoms that accompany the swelling, and the combination of symptoms often reveals the root cause of the swelling.

What are other swollen toe symptoms?

You might have noticed your swollen toe based on the change in size, but there are other symptoms that commonly occur at the same time, such as:

  • pain
  • stiffness or limited range of motion
  • warmth of the affected area
  • redness of the affected area
  • swelling of other toes
  • swelling elsewhere in the foot or ankle
  • stretched skin
  • shiny skin
  • stinging or itching between the toes or on the soles of the feet

What is causing my swollen toe?

There are numerous conditions that cause fluid to build up in your feet and toes and can cause swelling, including:

Arthritis

Arthritis is a condition that causes swelling, discomfort, and stiffness in joints. Arthritis in your toes can be:

Treatment: Options for arthritis treatment range from therapy to surgery to medication. Medications may include:

Gout

Gout is a form of arthritis that is characterized by sudden soreness, swelling, and stiffness, often at the big toe joint (hallux metatarsal phalangeal or MTP joint).

Treatment: Gout is typically treated with medications such as:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • colchicine (Colcrys, Mitigare)
  • corticosteroids, such as prednisone
  • xanthine oxidase inhibitors (XOIs), such as allopurinol (Aloprim, Zyloprim) and febuxostat (Uloric)
  • uricosurics, such as probenecid (Probalan) and lesinurad (Zurampic)

Ingrown toenail

When the side or corner of a toenail grows into the flesh of the toe, it’s called an ingrown toenail. Ingrown toenails cause swelling, pain, and redness. Ingrown toenails can also become infected.

Treatment: If your toe is infected — or at risk of infection — your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic. Physical treatment includes lifting the nail, partially removing the nail, or completely removing the nail.

Injury

From strains to dislocations to fractures, your toes can get injured from playing sports, experiencing impact, and or being stubbed.

Treatment: If you’ve injured your toe, your first response should be the RICE method:

  • rest
  • ice
  • compression
  • elevation

When to see your doctor

Swelling of any body part is something to be concerned about, especially when accompanied by pain and stiffness. If you don’t see an obvious cause and easy self-care treatment isn’t effective, make an appointment with your doctor.

Seek immediate medical care if:

  • your toe appears deformed
  • you aren’t able to straighten your toe
  • your swelling and pain persists and increases
  • your toe loses feeling and turns pink or white

Prevention

You can limit your exposure to some of the conditions that result in swollen toes by making lifestyle changes. For example:

  • Keep your toenails properly trimmed.
  • Keep your feet clean and dry.
  • Wear shoes that fit properly.
  • Wear appropriate footwear — flip flops, slides — in public restrooms, showers, and around swimming pools.
  • Wear protective footwear — steel-toed shoes — if your work environment includes a risk of toe or foot injury.

The takeaway

A swollen toe could be the result of trauma or infection or it could be a symptom of a condition such arthritis. If you don’t know why your toe is swollen and the swelling persists and is accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, see your doctor for a full diagnosis and recommendation for treatment.