Toe pain usually results from having stubbed the toe or dropped something on the foot.

Second toe pain is less common than pain in the biggest or smallest toes, and it can occur for reasons beyond knocks and other simple injuries.

Of the 28 bones in the foot, the toes contain 19. They work together to support balance and help a person walk.

In this article, learn about causes of second toe pain and how to treat them.

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A sprain or fracture may cause pain in the second toe.

While these injuries typically occur in the biggest or littlest toes, a sprain or fracture can also cause pain in the second toe.

Toe fractures and sprains tend to happen when a person is playing a sport or has dropped something heavy on the toes. Even stubbing a toe can cause one of these injuries.

There are two types of fracture — stress and traumatic fractures. A stress fracture is caused by a repetition of the same movement, usually during sports. A traumatic fracture refers to a single incident of injury.

A fracture may also be “open,” in which case the skin is broken. An open fracture requires immediate medical attention to prevent infection.

In addition to toe pain, a fracture can cause:

  • bruising
  • swelling
  • redness
  • the toe to appear crooked

Treatment

Many people believe that broken toes should be left to heal on their own, but this is incorrect.

There are many ways to help heal a sprained or fractured toe, including:

  • Resting: Keeping the foot elevated and not overusing it is essential for healing.
  • Splinting: To keep the toe in a fixed position, a doctor may recommend using a splint or taping the injured toe to one next to it.
  • Wearing appropriate footwear: Wearing stiff-soled shoes can help protect the toe while it heals and keep it in place.

Capsulitis refers to inflammation of the ligaments that surround the joint at the base of a toe.

It can develop in the third and fourth toes, but it is most common in the second toe.

Symptoms of capsulitis can include:

  • pain in the ball of the foot
  • swelling, including at the base of the second toe
  • difficulty putting on or wearing shoes
  • pain when walking, even when barefoot

A person with capsulitis may also feel as if there is something in their shoe, such as a stone or a marble.

Treatment

Many conservative treatments can relieve capsulitis, including:

  • resting and applying ice
  • splinting or taping
  • taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • doing stretches recommended by a doctor

Without treatment, capsulitis can cause the inflamed ligaments to weaken. Often, this causes the second toe to “drift” toward the big toe, and it increases the likelihood of dislocation.

If capsulitis is in its later stages, a person may need surgery to correct the problem.

Morton’s neuroma is a noncancerous swelling that usually occurs in the nerve between the third and fourth toes. However, it can occur between the second and third.

The condition is 8–10 times more common in females than males, and wearing high-heeled or narrow-toed shoes may be the cause.

The symptoms of Morton’s neuroma are similar to those of capsulitis. A person may experience pain and feel as if they are walking on a marble.

Treatment

Resting the foot, whenever possible, and receiving corticosteroid injections can alleviate the symptoms.

Sometimes, other health issues can indirectly or directly cause second toe pain.

  • Blisters: Ill-fitting footwear can cause blisters, a potential source of the pain.
  • Arthritis: This can develop throughout the body and cause second toe pain.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes should check their feet regularly for sores and wounds, which can cause toe pain.

A person can often relieve toe pain from blisters or minor injuries by trying:

  • Rest, ice, and elevation: Wrapping an ice pack in a towel and applying it to the injury for 20 minutes at a time can help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Medication: NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce inflammation and relieve the pain.
  • Orthotics: Special insoles or supports can help alleviate second toe pain. These work by correcting any imbalances in the foot.

If home remedies do not relieve the pain, it is important to get a diagnosis early, especially if it seems likely that the toe is broken.

A doctor will examine the foot and ask about symptoms to diagnose the cause of second toe pain. They may need to refer the person to a foot and ankle specialist.

If a toe starts drifting due to capsulitis, it will not return to its original place without surgery.

A person could have second toe pain for many reasons, most of which are easy to treat at home.

By resting and elevating the foot and applying ice, a person can get quick relief from the pain.

However, if the pain is persistent, worsens over time, or accompanies other symptoms, it is a good idea to see a doctor.