Shooting Pain in the Big Toe - What Causes It?

By Emma Kalman | Jan 02, 2018
Photo by: SC Photography Dedicated researcher and writer for the medical field with a love for sharing.

NYC — Our feet are constantly exposed to various forms of stress, regardless if it is walking, standing, or when involved in recreational activities. As complex as any other part of the human body, a foot consists of ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and bones that articulate in a unique fashion. Any compromise in one of these structures results in a certain discomfort and pain.

Big toe pain is a common symptom. It may not occur alone. Usually, it is associated with other symptoms such as numbness, a burning sensation or tingling sensation like sensations depending on the underlying disease or abnormality. Shooting pain in the big toe can occur to anyone, regardless of age or sex. However, it can be a rare symptom in some cases, as there must be an underlying condition.

It is normally felt at the first metatarsophalangeal joint that forms an articulation between the first metatarsal bone and the big toe. There are many factors that can lead to a shooting pain in the big toe. The pain can be a result of a single factor or a combination of factors. Below, are commonest causes that can make you have shooting pain in your big toe:

Sesamoiditis - this is one of the causes of pain within the big toe and its joint. It occurs when there is inflammation of the two tiny bones below metatarsophalangeal joint called sesamoid bones. These two bones aid in flexing the big toe. Once subjected to insults like infections, acute or chronic injuries and repetitive activity, say jumping, the result can be the sharp pain you experience.

Gout - this is one of the commonest causes of shooting pain in the big toe. In fact, gout may affect other toes also. It is prevalent in individuals who take excessive amount of alcohol and food, specifically red meat. Usually, these individuals tend to have high levels of uric acid in their blood. The result of which is the deposition and formation of uric acid crystals in various joints such as the big toe joint and the others like knee joint.

This continuous irritation within the joint manifests as a swelling, redness and exaggerated sensitivity of the big toe joint. It develops severe pain that can be disturbing enough to affect one's living routine.

Osteoarthritis - this occurs when the cartilage that covers and protects the distal parts of the bones is gradually damaged. Most commonly, it can be due to aging, obesity, certain infections or a genetic abnormality. When this occurs within the big toe joint, the pain tends to worsen, as the big toe supports a reasonable amount of body weight. Additionally, any movement of the big toe like when walking further worsens the pain.

Apart from pain, joint flexibility is reduced, thus limiting its functionality.

Bunions - this also contributes to pain in the big toe. It is a bone deformity as a result of wearing narrow or tight shoes. What happens is; your big toe becomes squeezed inward and over the remaining toes, causing enlargement of the metatarsophalangeal joint. This is what appears as a bump on the outer side and at the base of your big toe joint that may be sore and red.

This deformity is usually accompanied by sharp pain in the big toe, its base and the joint.

Hallux rigidus - the sharp pain caused by this defect can be very troubling. It occurs when there is interference with the normal biomechanics of the foot. Or due to a structural abnormality of the foot like in individuals who have fallen arches or rolling in ankles. The condition can also be a result of one's occupation like those who often get involved in squatting.

However, there is a hereditary component of the condition as members from certain families tend to be more prone to it. At first, your big toe may present with some movement limitation and later on stiffness and severe pain at the base of the big toe and the joint.

Turf toe - this results from sports injuries like when playing football. A sprain to any of the ligaments of your big toe will result in pain felt on the base of the big toe. It can also be caused by stub injuries to the big toe.

Fracture - a broken or cracked bone within your big toe can also result in a sharp pain. This can be due to high energy injury to your big toes like collisions in sports or as a result of a weakening of bones with age, a condition called osteoporosis. Although, it can be due to other pathologies and nutrient deficiencies. The broken toe will be very painful and tender when touching the ground.

Torn tendon in a big toe - this causes pain of the big toe joint. The pain is located underneath your big toe, although may radiate and be felt in other parts of the foot. Tendons in a big toe can be torn as a consequence of fracture, stubbing injuries or overextension of the big toe.

Whenever you experience a shooting pain in a big toe, and even with foot pain, do not take it lightly. It can be any of the above. Treatment of big toe pain should be individualized depending on the cause and severity of the pain. Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen will help to reduce the inflammation and relieve pain. Doing stretching exercises of your big toe joint, your feet and legs might also help to prevent you from other causes of big toe pain.

You can do so by keeping your muscles active and ensure excellent perfusion. Make sure to avoid tight shoes, as these might limit your big toe joint movement and compromise blood circulation. An approach called "RICE method", commonly used by Athletes is of help also. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. If the pain seems not to wear off and you just can't handle it, seeing a doctor for further management is the best option.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.