4 Common Conditions That Affect Your Toes

Common Toe Conditions
Verywell / JR Bee

You may not think of your toes as being important, but they are a large factor in the functioning of a healthy foot. Your toes are complex structures that absorb ground pressure and help you balance as you walk and run.

Many of the problems that affect toes are caused by abnormal foot anatomy. Over time, these abnormalities may lead to permanent changes in a toe's appearance, such as a hammertoe or a bunion.

This article will look at the signs, symptoms, and causes of four common toe conditions.

Bunion

A bunion is a large bump on the side of the foot, just below the big toe joint. It's the result of the big toe shifting out of position over time, nudging ever closer to the second toe. This is caused by a gradual separation between the first and second metatarsal bones, or the long bones of the foot.

These changes in bone positioning are most often due to abnormal foot function. For example, people with flat feet are more at risk of bunions. This can cause a widening of the foot and a large (and often red) bump on the side of the big toe joint.

Wearing shoes that are too small or too tight may contribute to developing bunions and can make them worse.

Problems associated with a bunion include:

  • Pain at the bump area
  • Difficulty fitting into shoes due to the widened foot
  • Painful calluses on the soles of the feet

Tailor's Bunion (Bunionette)

A tailor's bunion or bunionette is a bunion on the pinkie toe side of the foot. Similar to a bunion on the big toe side, this type of bunion also has a characteristic bump, although it is smaller. Having an abnormally shaped fifth metatarsal bone or a problem with foot functioning that puts excess pressure on the outside of the foot can lead to a tailor's bunion.

A tailor's bunion affects the joint area of the fifth metatarsal bone, where it meets the pinkie toe. It usually causes the following:

  • Pain
  • Shoe discomfort
  • Callus formation on the sole of the foot
  • Curling under fourth toe

The name comes from the notion that tailors often sat in a cross-legged position, putting pressure on the outside of the foot.

Hammertoe

A hammertoe is an abnormally shaped toe that is pulled back and upward in relation to the other toes. It most often affects the second toe and frequently occurs when there is a bunion at the big toe.

Hammertoes are the result of abnormal pulling of foot muscles, which occurs when there is abnormal foot functioning. Wearing high heels and shoes that are too narrow in the toe box may also contribute to forming hammertoes. People with flat feet are also prone to hammertoes.

Problems that often occur with a hammertoe include:

  • Painful corns on the top of the toe
  • Calluses on the ball of the foot (under the hammertoe)
  • Arthritis of the toe joints

Hallux Limitus

Hallux limitus is the medical term for restricted motion of the big toe joint, or the first metatarsophalangeal joint. For the feet to function properly while walking, a certain degree of flexibility of the big toe joint is required.

Abnormal foot anatomy, or a previous history of trauma such as turf toe or a toe fracture, can cause hallux limitus. This can progress to arthritis and a complete loss of range of motion, known as hallux rigidus.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain at the big toe joint
  • A bunion (bump) at the top of the big toe joint
  • A callus on the side of the big toe

Summary

Common toe problems, including bunions, tailor's bunion (or bunionette), hammertoes, and hallux limitus, can be caused by abnormal foot anatomy and function as well as too-small footwear.

If left untreated, toe problems can impact how you balance, walk, and run. By understanding the signs and symptoms, you can get treatment and ensure a healthy, functioning foot.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Bunions (Hallux Valgus). Updated October 31, 2016.

  2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Bunions. Updated February 2016.

  3. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Hammer Toe. Updated September 2012.

  4. Valero J, Moreno M, Gallart J, et al. A new surgical procedure for hallux limitus treatment: Double-V osteotomy on the base of the proximal phalanx of the halluxMedicine (Baltimore). 2017;96(39):e8127. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000008127