Toe pain is one of the most common types of foot pain. Wearing ill-fitting or narrow shoes regularly is a frequent cause for toe pain. Shoes with narrow toe boxes can cause blisters, calluses, corns, and ingrown toenails, and can worsen other conditions, including bunions, hammertoes/claw toes, and Morton's neuroma.

The five toes (phalanges) and their connecting long bones (metatarsals) comprise the forefoot. Each toe (phalanx) is made up of several small bones. The big toe (hallux) has two phalanges, two joints (interphalangeal joints), and two tiny, round sesamoid bones. The other four toes each have three bones and two joints. The phalanges are connected to the metatarsals by five metatarsal phalangeal joints at the ball of the foot.

In addition to ill-fitting and narrow shoes, other common causes for toe pain include skin conditions, such as dry, cracked skin, eczema, and psoriasis; fungal infections, such as athlete's foot; bacterial infections; frostbite (i.e., damage to the skin and sometimes the underlying tissue caused by extreme cold); and fractures and bruises.

Gout is a disease caused by the buildup of uric acid in the joints that can cause severe toe pain. Gout usually affects the first metatarsal phalangeal joint of the big toe (hallux), the ankle joint, or the heel.

In addition to severe toe pain, gout may cause swelling, inflammation, redness (erythema), warmth, and stiffness. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), gout affects approximately 2.1 million people in the United States.

Publication Review By: J. Michael Lunsford, D.P.M., Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Jan 2007

Last Modified: 08 Dec 2011