What to Know About Arthritis in Toes
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain, stiffness, and swelling. It can affect any joint in the body, including the toes. This article explains all you need to know about arthritis in the toes, its causes, symptoms, treatment options, and more.
What is Toe Arthritis?
The term arthritis means joint inflammation. It can occur anywhere in the body, including the toes.
The big toe is most commonly affected and arthritis of the big toe is known as hallux rigidus. However, arthritis can occur in any of the toes.
It usually affects the joint between the toes and the metatarsal bones of the feet, known as the metatarsophalangeal joint. There are several possible causes of toe arthritis. Let’s take a closer look.
What Causes Arthritis in the Toes?
There are many different types of arthritis. The types that most often affect the toes include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout.
OA is an extremely common form of arthritis. It develops as a result of wear and tear on the joints over time. Therefore, it tends to affect older people or those who are overweight. OA is frequently seen in the large, weight-bearing joints, like the hips and knees. However, it can also affect the toes.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RA is an autoimmune disorder and is caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the joints. It can occur anywhere in the body but is very common in the fingers and toes. It is unclear exactly what causes autoimmune disorders, but it is probably down to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Psoriatic Arthritis (PA)
PA is another autoimmune disorder and usually develops alongside the skin condition psoriasis. It can affect any joint, including the toes. Like RA, the exact cause of PA is unknown.
In gout, uric acid crystals build up in a joint, most commonly the big toe. When these crystals break away, they cause inflammation and extreme pain. Gout is usually considered a lifestyle disease and is associated with diets that are rich in red meat and alcohol.
Risk Factors for Toe Arthritis
There are several different risk factors for developing toe arthritis. They include:
- Advanced age
- Being overweight
- Family history
- Previous foot injuries
- Wearing ill-fitting footwear or high heels
Although these factors increase the risk of toe arthritis, it can affect people of all ages, even those who are otherwise fit and healthy.
Toe Arthritis Symptoms
The primary symptoms of toe arthritis are:
- Joint pain, tenderness, or numbness
- Stiffness or difficulty bending the toes
- Hot, red, or swollen joints
- Clicking or popping when moving the toes
- Deformities, such as bone spurs
- Changes in the position or direction of the toes
- Gait changes
Due to these symptoms, people with toe arthritis may experience difficulty when walking or exercising. They can also make finding comfortable shoes a challenge.
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Diagnosing Arthritis in the Toes
In order to make a diagnosis, doctors will usually take a medical history and perform a detailed physical exam of the feet. They may also conduct several other tests, including:
Doctors may order x-rays to confirm the presence of joint deterioration or bone spurs. Computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may also be helpful, although these diagnostic methods are less commonly used.
Blood tests can identify certain antibodies and proteins that are present in autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. They may also detect the presence of excess uric acid in gout.
Another method of detecting uric acid involves taking a small amount of fluid from around the toe joint using a needle. This method can also help to confirm whether an infection is present.
Toe Arthritis Treatment
There are several different treatment options for toe arthritis depending on its severity. They include:
Some people find applying ice packs or heat packs helpful for reducing pain. There are also warming or cooling creams that can be applied to the toes.
Another option involves placing the feet in cold water for 30 seconds and then warm water for 20 seconds. Repeating this process for around five minutes helps to improve circulation in the feet. However, care should be taken to avoid scalding the feet with very hot water.
Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen may help to reduce pain in mild cases of toe arthritis.
There are several options for reducing inflammation in toe arthritis.
The most common options are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen. These can help with mild to moderate cases of toe arthritis. However, individuals with more severe symptoms may require corticosteroid injections directly into the toe joint.
One of the best ways to relieve the symptoms of toe arthritis is by wearing special shoes to reduce pressure on the feet. This might include shoes with thick “rocker” soles or inserts that go inside the shoes. The most effective options are custom-made to suit an individual’s specific needs.
Surgery is usually seen as a last resort due to the risks involved. However, if other treatments are ineffective, there are three possible surgical options for toe arthritis:
- Cheilectomy: This procedure involves removing excess bone from the affected joint.
- Arthrodesis: This procedure involves fusing the joint to prevent movement and reduce pain.
- Arthroplasty: This procedure involves completely removing and replacing the affected joint.
How to Prevent Toe Arthritis
In many cases, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing toe arthritis by making some simple lifestyle changes. They include:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy diet, especially reducing red meat, fat, and alcohol consumption
- Wearing comfortable footwear that fits correctly
Finally, any foot pain should be investigated by a physician as soon as possible. By getting an early diagnosis, it may be possible to slow the progress of toe arthritis and reduce its impact on your life.