Arthritis is a condition that affects the joints and causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. There are several forms of arthritis that can affect the toes. Treatment may include pain relievers, ice packs, steroid injections, or surgery.

In this article, we look at the symptoms of arthritis in the toes, the different types of arthritis, and how a person can find relief from arthritic pain and discomfort.

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Common symptoms of arthritis that affect the toes include:

  • Pain: The toe may be particularly painful when a person lifts it or walks, but in severe cases, pain can also occur when at rest.
  • Stiffness and loss of function: Arthritis can cause an inability to bend the big toe upward, which can be painful and make it difficult to walk. The toe can become permanently bent downward and unable to lie flat on the floor.
  • Swelling and inflammation: This can occur in and around the toe and the joint.
  • Formation of a bump: Similar to a bunion or callus, a bump may form from the joints rubbing together.

Other symptoms that can occur in people with arthritis in the toes include:

They may also experience thick, pitted, or separated toenails. To compensate for arthritis in the big toe, a person might walk on the outside of their foot, causing pain in the ball of the foot.

There are different types of arthritis that can cause pain in the toes. These include:


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and causes the cartilage between joints to break down. This allows the joints to rub against each other, causing discomfort and pain.

When OA occurs in the toe, it is often referred to as hallux rigidus. This name comes from the Latin words for big toe (“hallux”) and stiffness (“rigidus”).

OA most commonly occurs in the joint at the bottom of the big toe, which is called the metatarsophalangeal, or MTP, joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common form of autoimmune inflammatory arthritis. Around 90 percent of people with RA will have foot problems. It can affect several small joints in the foot at the same time, including those in the toes.


Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when uric acid crystals form deposits in and around the joints. Uric acid is a bodily waste product in the bloodstream.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis (PA) is arthritis associated with the autoimmune disease known as psoriasis. In most cases, joint problems develop after the skin condition, although occasionally it happens in the reverse order. PA is known to affect the toes.

Infectious arthritis

Arthritis can be caused by an infection within the joint. This is often the result of bacteria traveling through the bloodstream after entering the body through an opening in the skin. However, it can also occur due to a virus or fungus. It may affect the small joints in the feet.

If a person is concerned that they may have arthritis in their toes, it is best to consult a doctor as soon as possible. Arthritis is easier to treat when people take early steps to slow its progression.

However, there are several things a person can do at home to relieve the symptoms of arthritis in the toes. These include:

  • using ice packs to reduce inflammation
  • wearing stiff-soled shoes with room for the toes
  • not wearing high heeled shoes
  • bathing the feet in a contrast bath

To use a contrast bath, a person places the affected foot in a bucket of cold water for 30 seconds and then in a bucket of warm water for 20 seconds, alternating between buckets for 5 minutes. They can do this up to three times per day, but a person should take care to avoid freezing or scalding water.

In some cases, medical intervention is needed to treat arthritic pain in the toes. Treatment may include:

  • pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications to reduce short-term pain and discomfort
  • steroid injections to reduce inflammation in the long term
  • surgery to trim, reshape, or replace the bone in the joint

There are three main types of surgery that could be used to help a person with arthritis in the toes. These are:


Doctors most commonly use cheilectomy when damage to the toe is mild or moderate. They make an incision and remove parts of the bone so the toe can move more freely.

The toe may remain swollen for several months, but most people experience long-term relief.

In some cases, a person’s arthritis may continue to worsen, and they may require another operation.


Also known as fusion, arthrodesis is when doctors fuse the bones together in a permanent position using pins, screws, or a plate.

The toe will not move again, but arthrodesis is a reliable way of treating severe pain.


In arthroplasty, surgeons remove joint surfaces and replace them with an artificial joint. This procedure is more common for older people who may not need to be as physically active as someone younger.

Learn more about what to expect from arthritis surgery.

While arthritis in the toes is not always preventable, there are some simple lifestyle changes a person can make to reduce their risk of the condition. These include:

The outlook for people with arthritis in the toes varies depending on the type of arthritis.

In cases of OA in the toes, the condition does not necessarily get worse. Indeed, with the right support, a person can lead a healthy, active life.

With RA, young age at onset, long disease duration, the presence of other health problems, and characteristics of severe RA can have an impact on lifespan. However, people who see a rheumatologist early in the course of their disease have a better outcome.

Below are some commonly asked questions related to arthritis in the toes.

What is the best pain relief for arthritis in the feet?

The best pain relief for arthritis in the feet depends on an individual’s condition.

For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help alleviate both pain and inflammation associated with all forms of arthritis.

Meanwhile, a person may use corticosteroids for quick inflammation control, either orally or through direct injections into the affected joints.

Analgesics such as acetaminophen or opioids can provide pain relief, especially for those unable to tolerate NSAIDs.

Do podiatrists treat arthritis in the toes?

While a podiatrist can help a person manage pain symptoms associated with the condition, a person should consult a rheumatologist to treat arthritis in the toes.

This reduces the risk of permanent damage to a person’s feet.

What triggers arthritis in the foot?

Various factors can trigger arthritis in the foot. These depend on the type of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA), for example, commonly results from the breakdown of cartilage between joints, particularly affecting the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint at the bottom of the big toe.

Meanwhile, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory form of the condition and affects multiple small joints, including those in the toes.

Is walking good for arthritis in the feet?

Yes, walking is good for people with arthritis in the feet. Indeed, walking is a low impact exercise that keeps the joints flexible, helps bone health, and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

Arthritis in the toes presents with symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and swelling, which can affect a person’s mobility and daily activities.

There are various types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and psoriatic arthritis, which can affect toe joints.

While home remedies such as ice packs and contrast baths can provide relief, medical treatments such as pain relievers, steroid injections, and surgery may be necessary for severe cases.

Seeking early intervention and making lifestyle changes may be necessary for effectively managing toe arthritis.