Posted on: November 5, 2015 at 6:56 am
Last updated: September 26, 2017 at 2:10 pm

According to the Arthritis Foundation, nearly half of all people in their 60s and 70s suffer from arthritic foot pain. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself screaming out, “Ouch, my aching feet,” especially if you are over the age of 60.

Arthritis can attack any part of the body where joints exist: the hands, hips, knees, feet, and even the toes. Toe arthritis is the cause of inflammation in the toe joint. In most cases, it attacks the big toe, but the other toes could be affected as well.

Let’s take further look at the causes and symptoms of toe arthritis.

Why Does My Toe Hurt?

Everything from past injuries (i.e. a broken or sprained toe), osteoarthritis, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis can lead to toe arthritis. Risk factors include being overweight, age, family history, and even wearing high-heeled shoes!

Common forms of toe arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is often hereditary and can affect the entire body. This type of arthritis causes the foot arches to collapse and result in stiffness and swelling in the foot. As a result, the toes are generally forced into an uncomfortable, constricted position.
  • Osteoarthritis can affect any of the joints in the foot, but it commonly causes arthritis in the big toe. Toe arthritis can lead to the erosion of cartilage and cause stiffness and pain in the toe.

Symptoms of Toe Arthritis

  • Stiffness: Over time, arthritis wears away at the cartilage between the joints, damages synovial fluid, and inflames tissues. These changes can make your joints stiff and hard to move. With less support, joints become more resistant to bending. This makes it difficult to walk, especially because the toes help with balance and lifting the foot off the ground.
  • Swelling: If you have trouble putting on your shoes due to swollen, inflamed feet and toes, it could be a sign they are arthritic.
  • Pain: Pain is a common symptom of toe arthritis. You may feel pain in all of the toes or just the big toe. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, it can range from a strong ache to a sharp, stabbing sensation.
  • Change in appearance: If your toes begin to look different (i.e. larger than normal or they rotate in another direction) it could be a sign of toe arthritis. Once the cartilage wears away and the bones grind against each other, the body attempts to resolve the situation by creating more bone. Your toes may even take on the appearance of claws.
  • Clicking and popping: As the cartilage that cushions the bones in a joint wear away, the bones will rub against together, resulting in a grinding or popping sound.
  • Locked joint: A locked joint occurs when there is so much swelling and stiffness that the joint becomes “locked” and can’t bend anymore. You might feel as if your toe is stuck, but not to worry; in most cases it’s not a permanent condition.
  • Heat: When inflammation brings more blood to the toes, they may feel warm, heated, or tender to touch.

Natural Remedies for Toe Arthritis

1. Stretches

Exercising and stretching your feet and toes will help with joint mobility and flexibility. Opt for simple stretches that will relieve tension in the tendons in your toes and the balls of your feet. Start off with a simple exercise (i.e. wiggling your toes).

2. Wear Proper Shoes

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Comfortable and supportive shoes are essential. Your shoes should be wide enough so they don’t press on bunions or corns. Women with arthritic feet and toes should avoid wearing high heels—it will only put unnecessary pressure on the feet. Athletic shoes have stronger soles and should put less strain on your feet as you walk.

3. Topical Ointments

Apply a topical ointment to arthritic toes for relief. Effective topical ointments contain capsaicin. Capsaicin is an ingredient found in chili peppers that is believed to decrease substance P—a peptide that transmits pain in the body. You can purchase capsaicin in various forms, such as a stick, gel, ointment, or cream.

4. Relaxing Foot/Toe Massage

Knead the balls of your feet and your toes. Begin at the top and work your way down to the base. Gently massage each toe. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a professional masseuse—perform this massage on your own or have a friend do it.


5. Orthotic Devices

Shoe inserts, canes, or braces can help provide relief for arthritic toes, depending on the severity of the arthritis. Shoe inserts, in particular, are beneficial because they help correct misalignments and distribute your weight evenly when you walk.

6. Hot and Cold Compresses

Cold packs can numb arthritic toe pain and reduce swelling. If you suffer from acute inflammation, heat pads may provide relief.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to natural treatments, try making a few lifestyle changes to help provide arthritic toe relief.


Following a balanced diet is beneficial, because it will help prevent weight gain. Individuals who are obese or overweight have a higher risk of developing arthritic feet and toes. Excess weight puts pressure on the feet, causes the cartilage to wear down, and can potentially lead to arthritis.

Dealing with arthritis can cause added stress, which in theory does not help when trying to cope with the pain. Stress management may help you ease your mind and deal with the nagging, arthritic pain.

Finally, if you’re prone to foot and toe arthritis, avoid activities that will put added stress on your feet.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Hallux Rigidus: Toe Arthritis Causes, Symptoms and Treatment,” The Toe Doctor web site;, last accessed October 8, 2015.
Orenstein, B. W., “8 Ways to Ease Arthritis Foot Pain,” Everyday Health web site, last updated January 15, 2015;, last accessed October 8, 2015.
Story, C. M., “My Aching Feet: Symptoms of Arthritis in Toes,” Healthline web site;, last accessed October 8, 2015.
“When the immune system goes on the attack,” EMBO Reports, 2004; 5(8): 757-760.
“Synovial membrane,” Wikipedia web site;, last accessed October 8, 2015.
Riskowski, J., “Arthritis, Foot Pain & Shoe Wear: Current Musculoskeletal Research on Feet,” Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 2011; 23(2): 148-155.
“Ways to Prevent Foot Pain and Get Around,” Arthritis Foundation web site;, last accessed October 8, 2015.
“Toe Arthritis,”,, last accessed October 8, 2015.
“Stress and Arthritis,” University of Washington Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine web site;, last accessed October 8, 2015.

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