Toe injuries can happen to anyone, but your odds of catching, crunching, or smashing a toe rise exponentially when you’re doing any type of fast-paced activity or sport (or if you’re just a klutz).
Common toe injuries include turf toe, a sprain caused by repeated bending or pushing off of the big toe, tripping over your big toe after getting it caught on something on the ground, or jamming the toe head-on into an object. Some people develop abnormal toe alignment (hallux valgus) or bunions over time, which may be due to poor body mechanics or an untreated injury and can make many shoes and even walking uncomfortable. Pain often leads to stiffness and weakness and makes you more prone to developing osteoarthritis of the joint.
So what’s a strong man with a sore toe to do?
This type of pain is no laughing matter. Your big toe, in particular, does more than you think. The digit, also known as the hallux, plays an important role in balance, and also works to help generate power and propel your body forward when you walk, leap, or run.
Formed by three bones—the first metatarsal, proximal and distal phalanges—this bony structure protrudes ahead of the other toes in the foot making it less protected and more prone to injury. Stability is reinforced by muscles and ligaments and injury to any of these structures can easily affect your tolerance of walking and your gait pattern. Injuries can come in the form of ligament tears, muscle sprains, and joint surface degeneration.
The most common location of toe soreness is at the first metatarsophalangeal joint, or where the big toe attaches to the rest of the foot. Normal gait requires extension at this joint, so an injured toe can easily lead to pain and/or swelling with every step. You’re definitely going to want to do something about it.
Ice massage: If you’re experiencing acute pain, swelling, or soreness in the toe, try icing the area using the dixie cup technique. Freeze a paper cup with water. Peel the top layer off. Roll the ice over the painful joint making small circles for a few minutes. Make sure you have a towel ready to catch the drips. An ice cube also works.
Strengthen the supporting musculature: If you have a sore big toe, it might be inflamed due to an acute injury, or it could be because it’s being forced to do all the work when pushing off of the ground or trying to keep you balanced. Strengthen muscles of the foot by performing towel scrunches and foot doming.
For towel scrunches, sit with your feet on a towel. While keeping your heels down, try to pull the towel towards you using only your toes. Spend about 5 minutes doing this a couple times a day. Then, stand up and practice foot doming. Balance on one foot and focus on lifting the arch of your foot (preventing pronation) without scrunching the toes. Try and maintain this arch while balancing on one foot for 30 to 60 seconds, or during any single leg exercises. Do these exercises barefoot.
Eventually, you can try seated the standing heel raises (going up on your toes). If that’s painful or if swelling and pain persist more than a few days, consider seeing your MD or physical therapist.