4 Common Conditions That Affect Your Toes

Abnormal Foot Anatomy

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.

Bunion

Bunion X-Ray

Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

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 the result of a gradual separation between the first and second metatarsal bones (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 prone to 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, and painful calluses on the soles of the feet.

Tailor's Bunion (Bunionette)

A tailor's bunion or bunionette is a bunion that is present on the pinkie toe side of the foot. Similar to a bunion on the big toe side, this type of bunion also has the characteristic bump, although it is smaller. A tailor's bunion affects the joint area of the fifth metatarsal bone, where it meets the pinkie toe. It usually results in the pinkie toe pressing against the fourth toe, sometimes curling under it. A tailor's bunion often causes pain, shoe discomfort, and callus formation on the sole of the foot. Having an abnormally-shaped fifth metatarsal bone or abnormal foot functioning that puts excess pressure on the outside of the foot can lead to a tailor's bunion. The name comes from the notion that tailors often sat in a cross-legged position, putting pressure on the outside of the foot.

Hammertoe

Woman's feet
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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. People with flat feet are also prone to hammertoes. 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. 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), and arthritis of the toe joints.

Hallux Limitus

Foot with Bunion and callus

Catherine Moyer, DPM

Hallux limitus is the medical term for restricted motion at the big toe joint (first metatarsophalangeal joint). For the feet to function properly while walking, a certain degree of flexibility of the big toe joint is required. Hallux limitus is caused by a decreased range of motion at the big toe joint which 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, and a callus on the side of the big toe. Hallux limitus can be caused by abnormal foot anatomy or a previous history of trauma, such as turf toe or a toe fracture.

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Article Sources
  • Bunions. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/conditions/ailments-of-the-big-toe/Pages/Bunions.aspx.
  • Hallux Rigidus. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/conditions/ailments-of-the-big-toe/Pages/hallux-rigidus.aspx.
  • Hammertoe. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/conditions/ailments-of-the-smaller-toes/Pages/Hammertoe.aspx.