How To Get Rid Of That Sharp Pain In Your Toes?
“My feet are killing me!” is a phrase we often use to describe a number of types of foot pain. It could be because you’ve been standing all day at a Rusted Root concert, or it could be something much more serious like toe arthritis or infection.
If you’re like the first example, buy some quality shoes and keep on rockin’. But if you’re like me and you feel a sharp pain in toes that doesn’t coincide with any excessive standing or walking, this article is for you.
Anatomy of the Toes
Here’s where it gets technical, but it’s important to know some of the jargon concerning your toes so we can more accurately describe the different ailments that could be causing you this pain.
The three bones that make up each of your toes are called phalanges with the exception of the hallux, or big toe, which only has two phalanges.
The phalanges connect to the metatarsal bones of the foot through a joint called the interphalangeal joint.
Each toe except the big toe is controlled by one muscle, making it very difficult to move any toe individually. This muscle is called the digitorium Brevis muscle and mainly extends or flexes your toes for movement and balance.
While not nearly as sensitive as your fingers, your toes have several nerve fibers that allow you to collect tactile information. It is these fibers that send any signals of pain from your toe to your brain.
And of course, we can’t forget the toenail. The nail is a hard coating of keratin and dead skin cells that protect the ends of your toes. Since this area is usually dark and moist, it is a perfect place for fungi and bacteria to thrive.
Causes of Sharp Toe Pain
Now that we’re acquainted with the inner workings of your toes, we can move on to which part is causing you pain and why.
Your sharp toe pain could be the result of a number of toe abnormalities:
A fungus that attaches itself to the bottom of your foot or in between your toes. It usually causes an itchy red sore that can be the source of serious pain. It can be picked up simply by walking barefooted in a place where the fungus is growing such as a pool or locker room.
A swollen and painful sore more commonly found in women as bunions are usually formed when the toes are crammed into a shoe that is too small or a high heel. This sore can angle your hallux inward and make walking extremely painful.
Another ailment found more often in women because of high heeled shoes. This is caused by a buildup of tissue around the nerve that leads to the toes. There usually isn’t an outward symptom, but the sharp pain will result as the nerve comes into contact with the tissue.
This is a fancy word for arthritis found in your big toe. While the exact cause is unknown, it usually comes with age and is accompanied by a swelling and stiffness that can cause severe pain if transgressed.
A very common ailment that is a result of your toenail, having been cut too short, starting to grow into your skin. This will cause the skin near your toenail to become swollen, painful, and eventually infected.
These are caused by a virus that finds its way into a break in the skin on your foot. If you walk on it frequently it can grow up into your toe and cause sharp pain. Warts can also spread around to different areas of the foot, but are easily treatable.
A crack in a phalanx that causes serious shooting pain throughout the damaged toe. These are caused by a sudden increase in running, walking, or other types of stress. Other fractures can be the result of direct injury to your toe.
A commonplace infection that causes you to see a yellowing and a thickening of your toenail. This can sometimes result in pain under the nail.
If you are experiencing sharp pain in toes, then you may have one of the above foot disorders. Depending on the severity of the pain that you feel, you may want to employ a home remedy as well as take on preventative measures to avoid further problems.
What You Should Do
As with any medical issue, I always recommend that you first see a qualified professional before attempting to solve the problem yourself. Your podiatrist can accurately assess your symptoms and recommend the best course of action for your diagnosis.
Some of the above ailments may require surgery or sustained medical treatment depending on the severity of your symptoms. If that is not the case, then here are some things that you can do at home to alleviate toe pain, reduce symptoms, and prevent future issues.
The single most important preventative measure that can be taken is this: wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes as often as possible.
The pattern found in the ailments listed above is that many of them are found much more often in women who frequently wear tight shoes or high heels.
Doing so greatly increases your chances of developing a bunion, stress fractures, Morton’s Neuroma, ingrown toenails, and possibly arthritis.
The other preventative measure you can take is to limit walking barefoot in moist, well-travelled places such as a pool, locker room, or public restroom. If you have a break in the skin on your foot, avoid this entirely as it may cause Plantar warts, athlete’s foot, and toenail fungus.
If you already have one of these ailments, here are the recommended home treatment plans:
1. Athlete's Foot: Keep Your Toes Dry
To combat athlete’s foot, you need to focus on mitigating the amount of moisture that the fungus receives.
Frequently changing socks throughout the day, never wearing the same shoes two days in a row, and drying your toes completely after a shower before putting on footwear can all help.
Use these measures in concert with an over-the-counter anti-fungal medication to maximize the potential for a decrease in your symptoms.
2. Bunions: Wearing Loose and Comfortable Shoes
If you are still able to walk barefoot without much pain, then you can alleviate symptoms by wearing loose and comfortable shoes with a pad to decrease the amount of stress the bunion receives.
If walking produces sharp pain, then surgery might be necessary.
3. Morton's Neuroma: Corticosteroid is Considered
Aside from surgery to remove the inflamed tissue, switching to roomier shoes with orthopedic inserts to reduce nerve pressure can help tremendously. You will, however, most likely need to visit your podiatrist to receive an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid injection.
If these do not decrease your pain, your doctor may recommend surgery.
4. Hallux Rigidus: Need a Physician As Soon As Possible
Unfortunately, arthritis is very serious and difficult to treat without surgery unless it is diagnosed in its early stages. For this reason, I will reiterate that if you are feeling a sharp pain in toes, it is best to have your condition assessed by a physician as soon as possible to rule out or diagnose Hallux Rigidus.
Surgery will be required to rid yourself of arthritis since, without it, you cannot stop the progression of the condition. Before the surgery, however, your physician may recommend orthopedic sole inserts, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatory injections.
You may also want to consider moving to warmer climates as colder temperatures contract and stiffen the muscles and ligaments, causing greater pain.
5. Ingrown Toenail: Soak Your Foot in Warm Water
This condition is usually treatable without any surgery. It is preventable if you practice proper nail cutting. The most common therapy is to soak your foot in warm water and soap multiple times per day.
If your skin has not yet begun to grow over the nail, you may be able to lift the nail plate and place a wedge of cotton or floss to keep the plate away from the skin. This wedge should be replaced daily and you should stick to wearing open-toed shoes to prevent further irritation.
You can see a tutorial on this here.
Natural Home Remedies for Ingrown Toenails
Your doctor may find it necessary to prescribe you antibiotics if he/she finds the area to be infected. If the pain is unbearable, then your doctor may need to cut away a section of the ingrown section of your toenail.
In a worst-case scenario where you develop a chronic issue with this, your doctor might suggest having the entire toenail removed.
6. Plantar Wart: Maintaining a Clean Foot
Warts are seldom permanent and can go away on their own. However, if they become painful you may consider treating them. Maintaining a clean foot and the use of salicylic acid patches can usually do the trick
If these treatments fail, your doctor may freeze the wart with liquid nitrogen over the course of several sessions to dissolve the wart entirely. He/she may also suggest having the wart excised with a local anesthetic.
7. Stress Fracture: Avoid Putting Stress on the Injured Toe
The primary treatment for a fracture is this: rest. See your doctor and avoid putting stress on the injured toe while decreasing swelling with ice and taking over-the-counter pain medication if necessary.
Your doctor may tape your fractured toe to its neighbor to facilitate healing. Be sure to attempt to identify the reason for this fracture and take steps to avoid it in the future.
8. Toenail Fungus: A topical or Oral Anti-fungal Medication
As with other fungi, a topical or oral anti-fungal medication will most likely be prescribed by your doctor. He/she may also trim and cut away infected plating or skin. It may be necessary to remove the plate entirely to facilitate faster recovery.
If you are experiencing a sharp pain in toes here is a summary of the steps you should take:
- Have your physician assess your condition.
- Follow his/her instructions as appropriate.
- Take preventative measures to avoid issues in the future.
(By Carlos Rivera - Jacob Grill)