Cracking Big Toe?

A Possible Sign of Arthritis

Sadly, that crack, crack, cracking you’re hearing from your feet these days as you walk may be more than just another sign of getting old. In actuality, you may have arthritis and not know it.

What is arthritis, exactly?

The term arthritis is a bit of a misnomer and does not describe a single condition. Rather, it refers to the overall pain or disease that is caused by inflammation or stiffness in the joints. In fact, there are over 100 different types of arthritis and other related disorders that the term can actually cover.

When arthritis occurs in the joints (including the toes), it wears away cartilage between the joints. This causes inflammation in the associated tissues and/or wears away the synovial fluid (lubrication for the joints) over time. This makes the joints stiff and painful, which can become a serious problem for the big toe, as it is primarily responsible for balance when you walk.

Risk factors for developing arthritis in the toes may include:

  • Family history of arthritis
  • Increased age
  • Obesity
  • Wearing tight, high-heeled shoes for extended periods of time

What are some common symptoms of arthritis?

When it comes to arthritis in the toe(s), common symptoms may include:

  • Changes in the appearance of the toe(s), such as joint enlarging (think of what a bunion may look like) or toe curving (a.k.a. claw foot)
  • Pain in the big toe or several toes
  • Stiffness that makes moving the toe(s) difficult
  • Swelling, which may turn the toe(s) red, feel warm to the touch and make putting shoes on difficult
  • Toe joint(s) locking up

How can arthritic toe pain be treated?

There are a number of things you can try to ease the pain and other symptoms of arthritis, such as:

  • Applying topical treatments, like Icy Hot® (or any treatment that contains capsaicin)
  • Getting a foot massage
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) over the counter (e.g., Aleve®, Advil®, Motrin®, etc.)
  • Wearing wide, comfortable, supportive shoes with arch support, so the joints of the toes and feet are stabilized (e.g., toning athletic shoes)
  • Wiggling your toes to increase joint mobility

Could my symptoms be the result of something other than arthritis?

There are several conditions that can mimic the symptoms of arthritis (most notably rheumatoid arthritis). These include:

  • Certain infections, such as Lyme disease, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Chikungunya virus
  • Lupus, a choric autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own tissues
  • Morton’s neuroma, a condition in which the tissue around a nerve connected to the toes becomes thickened
  • Vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels

>No matter what the cause, if you suspect you have arthritis in one or more of your toes, a trip to a rheumatologist may be in order (because self-diagnosing is so early 2000s).

Come to the Joint Specialists

At Northeast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine (NEOSM), our physicians have years of experience in effectively treating all orthopedic conditions and injuries, including those related to joint pain and arthritis. Our multidisciplinary approach to care ensures that patients receive the customized treatment they need to get moving again.

For more information on arthritis or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, contact NEOSM today.