Medically-related painful toes

Medically-related painful toes are uncommon. A stiff toe is more likely to arise due to injury. In this introductory article, I will cover the most common medical causes of painful toes involving osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and psoriasis.

The big toe is a large round-ended joint. When it jams up, its movement is affected. In addition, there are changes to the efficiency of the joint lubrication mechanism. Because the joint oil (synovial fluid) nourishes the cartilage, damage follows if the lubrication fails. Many of the conditions described affect more than toes.


Joint stiffness may occur through osteoarthrosis and typically affects larger joints. This is a condition that relates to the poor quality of the cartilage makeup. As we age, signs of degeneration appear as stiffness, swelling and pain. The fingers are often affected, but many large joints are affected. Osteoarthritis is often considered an old person’s disease, but it can start from middle age (40 years upwards).

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is also caused by inflammation around the joint. The body ends up attacking itself because the immune system acts against itself. Cartilage degeneration arises again, but the bone is badly affected. Patients feel unwell in addition to any stiffness that arises.

RA can be associated with other medical problems, such as thyroid. If the thyroid gland functions poorly, it can lead to us feeling sluggish and gaining weight. The opposite is true when the thyroid is overactive. These are complicated conditions and can affect other organs of the body.


This is a well-known condition in history but will arise irrespective of parentage. The toe becomes enlarged, hot, and red; shoes are difficult to tolerate if they press on the joint and skin. Food and alcohol can bring on gout. The balance of chemicals affecting the kidney causes a build-up of crystals. The crystals damage the joint lining. As the joint enlarges, the surface cartilage dries out, forming a thick white paste-like crushed almonds. Gout can be treated effectively, as can rheumatoid arthritis, often without surgery.


A lesser known medically related painful toe arises with wasting of the cartilage and ends of the bone. This is due to psoriasis, a skin condition. Although primarily a skin complaint, psoriasis can affect joints in around 7-10% of those afflicted with psoriasis. The big toe joint is not the only joint affected and is common in smaller joints, including the toes. 

Rheumatology medicine and other conditions

Medical-related painful toes are associated with the study of rheumatology medicine. The reader should note that these conditions are less common in the case of hallux rigidus than in localised injury. Articles are linked to the NHS information site, which covers each medically related condition mentioned in this article. Feet are affected by these four arthritic conditions known as arthritides pronounced art-ritt-a-dees. A fifth condition can be found in feet called ankylosing spondylosis. It affects the spine mostly but is one of the many and causes heel pain often associated with plantar fasciitis.

You can read more articles on ConsultingFootPain under ‘Footlocker’

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Thank you for reading “Common forms of foot arthritis” by David R Tollafield

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Published by Busypencilcase Communications. Est. 2015 for ConsultingFootPain

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