Prevent and Treat Big Toe Pain: The Runner’s Guide to Healthy Feet

Published :

Cross Training For Runners
Photo of author

Written by :

David Dack

Running offers fantastic health benefits, from reducing the risk of cardiovascular issues to building muscle and burning fat. It’s a go-to exercise for many of us. But there’s a catch – the high-impact nature of running can lead to injuries or worsen existing conditions, especially in your lower body.

Your big toe might seem small, but it plays a big role in generating forward momentum as you dash down the track.

This tiny joint, also known as the MTP joint, plays a crucial role in generating forward momentum while you’re hitting the pavement. However, it’s also susceptible to various overuse injuries.

In this article, we’re diving into the common causes of big toe pain while running. We’ll explore their symptoms, treatment options, and, most importantly, how to prevent these issues from slowing you down.

The Anatomy of the Big Toe

Understanding the anatomy of the big toe is essential to grasp the potential causes of toe pain in runners.

The foot is a complex structure composed of bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons, all working together to support your weight and enable movement. When runners experience foot injuries, various components of this intricate network can be affected.

One crucial element of the foot is the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, located at the base of the big toe. This joint plays a vital role in the mechanics of walking and running, allowing the foot to roll forward, push off the ground, and flex with each step. Despite its small size, the big toe bears a significant amount of weight and contributes to the overall function of the foot. Research has shown that approximately 5 percent of running injuries involve the big toe joint.

When the MTP joint becomes stiff or experiences issues, it can lead to pain and discomfort, making weight-bearing activities, including running, especially challenging. To better understand toe pain in runners, it’s important to explore the potential causes and appropriate actions to address these issues.

Additional Resource – A Tibial Posterior Tendonitis Guide in Runners

How to Treat Big Toe Joint Pain From Running

Without further ado, let’s look at the main cause of big toe pain in runners as well as how to treat them.

Hallux Rigidus

Hallux rigidus, also known as turf toe or stiff big toe, is a common condition that can cause significant pain and discomfort in the big toe joint. It is characterized by degenerative arthritis of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint of the big toe and is the second most common condition affecting the big toe, following bunions. This condition can result from various factors, including injury to the toe or overuse, which can make walking and standing difficult.

Runners may experience turf toe due to the strain placed on the MTP joint during running or by stubbing the toe while running. Overuse of the joint, such as running long distances or running too frequently, can also contribute to the development of hallux rigidus. Common symptoms of this condition include pain while bearing weight on the affected toe, swelling near the base of the big toe, and limited mobility of the big toe.

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for effectively managing hallux rigidus. Proper shoes with a roomier toe box can help reduce friction and pressure on the base of the toe. Stiff-soled shoes may also provide relief. Non-surgical treatments, such as over-the-counter pain medications, orthotic inserts, physical therapy, and corticosteroid injections for pain and swelling, are often recommended.

In severe cases where conservative treatments are ineffective, surgery may be necessary to alleviate pain and restore joint function. The specific surgical intervention required depends on the extent of damage to the joint, as determined by a physician through various diagnostic tests, including X-rays. Multiple surgeries may be needed to address all aspects of the condition.

If you suspect you have hallux rigidus or are experiencing symptoms of a stiff big toe, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Early intervention can significantly improve the prognosis and facilitate a gradual return to running and other physical activities.

Additional Resource – Running with Hemorrhoids

Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown toenails can be a painful and uncomfortable condition caused by the toenail growing into the skin of the toe. This often occurs when the toes rub against the front of tight or ill-fitting footwear, leading to the toenail piercing the skin and growing into it. Cutting the toenail too short or curving it too far when trimming can also contribute to ingrown toenails.

Common symptoms of ingrown toenails include tenderness, darkened skin around the affected nail, swelling, and redness. In some cases, an infection may develop, leading to pus drainage from the area.

If you suspect you have an ingrown toenail, it is essential to address it promptly to prevent further discomfort and complications.

Here are some steps to manage ingrown toenails

  • Keep the area clean: Wash your feet regularly with soap and water to prevent infection.
  • Soak the foot: Soaking the affected foot in warm water a few times a day can help reduce pain and swelling. Add Epsom salt to the warm water for added relief.
  • Wear comfortable shoes: Choose footwear that provides ample room for your toes and avoids putting pressure on the affected toenail. Open-toed shoes or sandals can be beneficial during the healing process.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Non-prescription pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help alleviate pain and inflammation.
  • Avoid self-surgery: While it may be tempting to attempt to remove the ingrown nail yourself, it’s generally best to leave it alone. Self-surgery can lead to infection and further complications.
  • Consult a healthcare professional: If the pain persists, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare provider. They may recommend antibiotics if an infection is present or perform a minor surgical procedure to remove the ingrown portion of the nail.


Blisters can be a painful consequence of excessive friction and moisture, especially in hot and humid conditions. These fluid-filled pockets can form on various parts of the foot, including the toes, due to the repetitive rubbing of the skin against socks or shoes.

One crucial aspect of blister prevention is paying attention to any early signs of tenderness or discomfort on your toes or other susceptible areas of your feet. Catching these warning signs early can help you take preventive measures before a blister develops.

Here are some strategies to prevent blisters on your toes while running:

  • Proper footwear: Ensure your running shoes fit correctly and provide enough space for your toes. Shoes that are too tight can increase friction and blister formation.
  • Moisture-wicking socks: Choose moisture-wicking socks designed for running. These socks help keep your feet dry by wicking away sweat and reducing the chances of friction-related blisters.
  • Lubrication: Apply a lubricant or anti-chafing product to areas prone to blisters. Common choices include petroleum jelly or specialized anti-blister products.
  • Correct lacing: Experiment with different lacing techniques to find the one that minimizes friction on your toes. Some runners find that using a loop lacing technique or skipping specific eyelets can help reduce pressure points.
  • Foot care: Keep your feet clean and dry before putting on your socks and shoes. Consider using foot powder to reduce moisture.
  • Gradual adaptation: If you’re breaking in new running shoes, gradually increase your mileage to allow your feet to adapt to the footwear.

Additional Resource – Your guide to runners itch

Plantar Fasciitis

Experiencing stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot or heel post-run, after long periods of sitting, or first thing in the morning?

Plantar fasciitis could be the culprit.

Plantar fasciitis is an infamous overuse injury that causes inflammation of the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is the tissue that attaches to the heel bone and extends across the bottom of your foot. This bundle of tissue functions as a shock absorber that also supports the foot’s arch during weight-bearing.

Plantar fasciitis is common among runners and one of the leading causes of heel pain. The condition is common among runners who have flat feet, but it can also offer those with high arches.


If you suspect you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis, take a few days off immediately.

  • Rest: Give your foot some time to heal by reducing or temporarily stopping your running activities. Overuse is a common cause of plantar fasciitis.
  • Icing: Apply ice to the affected area for about 15-20 minutes several times a day to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
  • Stretching: Perform gentle stretching exercises for the calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and plantar fascia. Stretching can help relieve tension and promote healing.
  • Footwear: Ensure you have appropriate running shoes that provide adequate arch support and cushioning. Orthotic inserts may also be beneficial for some runners.

If pain refuses to dissipate, consult a foot specialist for a thorough diagnosis.

Stress Fractures

If you just took up running or started running more than usual and are dealing with localized, acute pain, you might have a stress fracture.

Stress fractures of the toes are common among runners. These consist of a small crack in the bone or a serious bruising within a bone. The condition is usually caused by repetitive activity and overuse.

Foot stress fractures typically impact the end of the long bones in the foot (the metatarsals), at the base of the pinky toe (the fifth metatarsals), and in the bones of the ankle joint.

Swelling and pain are the most common symptoms of a stress fracture, but you might also notice discoloration around the toe.

Left ignored, a stress fracture can turn into a complete fracture where the bones break through and dislocate.


Rest: The most crucial aspect of stress fracture treatment is rest. Avoid putting weight on the affected foot or engaging in activities that exacerbate the pain.

  • Ice: Apply ice to the affected area to reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Compression: Consider using compression bandages or sleeves to reduce swelling and provide support.
  • Elevation: Elevate your foot to reduce swelling, especially when resting.
  • Orthotics: Consult with a healthcare provider to assess your footwear and possibly recommend orthotic inserts or changes to your running shoes.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapists can guide you through exercises to maintain strength and flexibility in the rest of your body while your foot heal

Additional Resource – Here’s your guide to calf pain while running

Other Causes of Big Joint Pain In Runners

Big toe pain in runners can have various causes, and it’s essential to consider other potential culprits beyond the more common conditions mentioned earlier.

Here’s a brief overview of some of these additional causes:

  • Raynaud’s Disease: This condition affects blood circulation, leading to temporary narrowing of the blood vessels in response to cold temperatures or stress. It can cause pain and numbness in the extremities, including the toes.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: An autoimmune disease that can affect joints, including those in the toes. It often causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the affected joints.
  • Morton’s Neuroma: This is a thickening of the tissue around a nerve leading to the toes, often between the third and fourth toes. It can cause sharp, burning pain and numbness in the toes.
  • Gout: Gout is a type of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. It can lead to sudden and severe pain in the big toe joint.
  • Sesamoiditis: Inflammation of the sesamoid bones, which are small bones located beneath the big toe joint, can cause pain in the area.
  • Bunion: A bunion is a bony bump that forms at the base of the big toe. It can cause pain and discomfort, especially during activities like running.
  • Turf Toe: This is a sprain of the ligaments around the big toe joint and is common in athletes, including runners. It can result from hyperextension of the big toe.
  • Capsulitis: Inflammation of the joint capsule surrounding the big toe joint can lead to pain and limited range of motion.

Symptoms and treatment options can vary depending on the cause of the pain, so at the end of the day, you’re better off consulting your doctor for a thorough examination.

Additional resource – Chiropractor for runners


Big Toe Joint Pain From Running – The Conclusion

There you have it! If you’re suffering from big toe joint pain while or after running, then this post has you covered. The rest is just details.

Thank you for stopping by.

Keep running strong.

Recommended :