You may experience pain in the big toe joint as a result of many common problems. When the bones or soft tissues of the toe are damaged, it can cause pain and swelling and may affect the structure and function of your feet. Pain in the big toe joint can make simple everyday activities, such as walking, a challenge.

The Big Toe Joint

The big toe is vital for supporting and stabilizing our body weight, helping us balance as we carry out a variety of movements. The joint at the base of the big toe, known as the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, allows the toe to bend upwards and downwards, propelling us as we move. The surfaces of the bones within the MTP joint are covered by a protective layer of cartilage that allows the bones to glide smoothly against one another as they move. The joint is also protected by a thin membrane known as synovium, which secretes fluid to help lubricate joints.

If the joint gets injured, such as through trauma or wear-and-tear, it can become stiff, limiting movement and making walking, along with other activities, painful and difficult.

What Causes Pain in the Big Toe Joint?

Pain in the big toe joint can be caused by a number of common injuries and conditions, but the most common ones include:


Arthritis refers to a joint disease that causes pain, inflammation, stiffness, and reduced motion in the affected joints. The most common types of arthritis to affect the big toes are osteoarthritis and gout.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative type of arthritis that causes the cartilage at the end of bones to gradually wear away. This can lead to painful bone-on-bone rubbing, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joint. Over time, the joints can start to lose strength, and the condition can cause chronic pain. Risk factors for osteoarthritis include a family history of the condition, excess weight, aging, and past injuries. Frequently wearing high-heeled shoes can also put added pressure on the toe joints, increasing your chances of developing the condition. Regular exercise, hot and cold therapies, and pain relief medication can help relieve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair or replace the damaged joint.

Gout is an inflammatory type of arthritis that can cause sudden and intense pain in the big toe joint. Other symptoms include redness, swelling, and pain, which may be worse at night. Other joints may also be affected, such as the ones in the ankle, foot, and knee. Gout is much more common in men and results from a buildup of uric acid in the body. Treatments for gout can include ice therapy and elevation, drinking plenty of fluids, medication, and reducing stress.


A bunion is a bony bump that often develops on the outside of the MTP joint at the base of the big toe. It occurs when some of the bones in the front section of the foot move out of place, causing the tip of the big toe to get pulled toward the other toes. Bunions can cause pain, swelling, soreness, and redness. Bunions can get progressively worse over time. Hereditary factors, injury, deformity, or wearing tight, narrow, or high-heeled shoes can increase the chances of developing bunions, as well. They may also be associated with some types of arthritis. Treatment for a bunion can include wearing comfortable shoes, padding, custom orthotics or shoe inserts, ice therapy, and pain relief medication. Surgery may be necessary for significant symptoms.

Toe Injury

Pain in the big toe can be caused by injuries, such as a fracture due to a direct impact or a stress fracture from the repetitive force. A toe fracture can cause severe pain. The toe may appear swollen, bruised, or misshapen. The turf toe is a common injury during sports and refers to a sprain to the main joint of the big toe. It occurs when the big toe is bent upwards beyond its normal range of motion. It can cause pain, tenderness, and the inability to bend the toe down or put weight on it. If the toe joint is loose, it may also lead to dislocation.

Treatment depends on the type of injury but may include, rest, ice, elevation and compression, immobilization, and pain relief medication. Surgery may be necessary to repair a fracture or soft tissue injury to restore joint function. If you suspect you have a toe fracture, see your doctor for treatment in order to prevent complications.

Treatment for Big Toe Joint Pain in Cincinnati, Ohio

If you have pain in your big toe joint, consult our experienced podiatrists at Cincinnati Foot and Ankle Care. We provide personalized care and state-of-the-art technology to help you manage all your foot and ankle health needs.

For more information about the services we provide, call us today at the location nearest to you or use our online form to request a consultation.