Pain in the joints is one of the main symptoms of arthritis, and although this is most common in the joints of the hands, knees and hips, it can also affect the joints of the toes. Pain in the toe joints can be caused by different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout, and also by previous injuries to the toes.
Arthritis in the toes occurs when the joint of the toe becomes inflamed, and this is often caused by the bones of the toes rubbing together where the cartilage has worn away. This can lead to further inflammation in the tissue, causing swelling and pain. It is usually the big toe that is affected by arthritis and joint pain, but it can also affect the other toes in some cases.
Who is at risk of Arthritis in the Toes?
Arthritis is a condition that can vary greatly between different people, and different types of arthritis can affect the body in different ways. The types of arthritis that most commonly affect the toes may be caused by the following:
Ageing. Many people experience pain in their joints as they get older, and this is often a result of ‘wear and tear’, as part of the natural ageing process. This does not mean you have to simply accept the pain, however, as there are many treatment routes that may be available to you.
Family history. It is believed that the likelihood of developing certain types of arthritis is higher in some families than others, suggesting that there is a genetic component to the condition. It is important to be aware that if family members have been affected by arthritis, you may be at higher risk of developing the condition in the future.
Excess weight. Being overweight can put a great deal of additional pressure on your joints, and especially on the joints of the feet as they support this extra weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is a key way to prevent problems such as arthritis from developing as you age, and to ensure that you are able to lead a healthy lifestyle into the future.
Symptoms of Joint Pain or Arthritis in the Toes:
If you have noticed any of the following symptoms in your toes, you should talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to a specialist. This will enable you to identify the particular problems you are experiencing and find the best treatment plan for you. Symptoms include:
- Pain: The most noticeable symptom of toe arthritis will usually be the pain felt in the joint of the toe, usually the big toe. This pain may be more noticeable after exercising, or while walking, and you may notice that the pain sometimes feels sharp and sometimes feels more achey.
- Inflammation: Inflammation is the key symptom of arthritis, which is caused when the cartilage and tissues of the joints swell. You may notice that your toes or the joints at the base of the toes look swollen, and they may also feel warm to the touch or appear more red than usual.
- Damage to the toes. If you have toe arthritis, you may begin to notice differences about the way your toes look. For example, the toes may appear to turn away from their correct positions, or to rotate, and may also look larger in size due to the inflammation.
- Stiffness. The joints affected by arthritis may feel stiff and difficult to move freely, and this is a result of damage caused when the cartilage is worn away inside the joint and the tissues around it become inflamed.
- Toes cracking. When the joints of the toes are damaged, they may not move smoothly and may make cracking or clicking noises as you walk or move your feet. Popping or grinding sounds are also commonly reported, and these can occur when the bones of the joints rub against one another.
Treatment for Arthritis in the Toes
The type of treatment that is available to you will depend upon the pain you are experiencing and the reason for this. If you have arthritis, it can be very helpful to work with a specialist who can monitor your condition carefully and help to limit the damage caused and maintain good levels of mobility. Arthritis can progress quickly when left untreated, and can even lead to irreversible damage, so it is very important to seek help as soon as you develop joint pain or suspect that you may have arthritis.
Peter Browne, Consultant Rheumatologist in Ireland
If you have been experiencing pain and inflammation in the joints of the toes, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible and ask to be referred for specialist treatment.
Dr Peter is a qualified rheumatologist who sees patients in Tralee and Limerick. To make an appointment, you will need to visit your GP or other healthcare professional, who can refer you to our rheumatology clinic. If you have a query, you can contact us online for more information.