Pain in the big toe

One cause... BUNIONS:



A BUNION (hallux valgus) develops when the big toe is forced inward from close-toed shoes.

As you toe off when you walk, the big toe bends upward and then presses into the ground to help propel you forward. If the shoes you are wearing are too tight (even just a little), the shoes will press your big toe inward. This compression stresses the joint at the base of the big toe.

Joints under pressure thicken over time to better handle the stressors. When this happens at the base of the big toe, we call it a bunion.

 A bunion becomes painful when the stress is enough to cause inflammation.

Oftentimes, the treatment is to put a pin through the joint, immobilizing it so it does not inflame. The problem with this treatment is that it affects how you walk! Because you can’t bend your big toe, you have to lift your foot up earlier, which stresses other joints, leading to knee, hip, and/or low back pain.


My suggestion: Try toe spacers

toe spacers Toe spacers placed between the first and second toes help the big toe stay in alignment, despite being in close-toed shoes. This prevents the bunion from worsening and may result in decreasing the bunion over time. Bone is not like iron that rusts with time. Bone is living tissue that responds to stressors. Under stress, it thickens. Take the stressor away, and the bone will thin out. It takes years, but better to improve the condition than to have it worsen over time.

I wear toe spacers between my big toe and second toe, as well as between my third and fourth toes. The spacers last for more than six months before squishing to a point where they need to be replaced. 

toe spacers

Toe spacers for foot pain

(thick for between the big toe and second toe, thin for between the other toes).

I was born with a crooked fourth toe on both feet. My fourth toes curl under my third, creating callouses. This worsened over time, until my mid-thirties, when I started keeping the fourth toes straight with skinny toe spacers that I use when I wear close-toed shoes. That way when I wear sandals, the fourth toe does not curl so deeply under my third toe (like it did in my early thirties). My feet are in better shape in my forties than they were in my thirties!

Here’s an interesting fact about spacers. One of my patients was going through toe spacers every few weeks, versus having them last more than six months. Come to find out, she used coconut oil on her feet as lotion. Once she stopped applying the coconut oil on her feet, the toe spacers lasted a lot longer!

If your bunion is moderate to severe, try wearing a bunion splint at night as well. I have saved countless patients from bunion surgery by suggesting they wear a bunion splint at night.

bunion splint

A bunion splint for pain from bunions

Helps correct bunions over time. Simply wear at night.

The foot is designed to walk with the toes straight ahead.  Wearing shoes that have narrow toe boxes forces the toe to bend in (hallux valgus).  The hinge joint at the base of the big toe enables the toe to bend up and press down as we toe off when we walk. 

But if the big toe is forced to bend inward (toward the midline of the body) by a tight-fitting shoe, this abnormal position strains the hinge joint (the first PIP joint).  This repetitive strain eventually causes the bones of the joint to thicken and become arthritic. Then a bunion forms.  

Again, bones are not like iron that rusts with time.  It takes time for them to degenerate and become arthritic, just like it takes time to reverse this process. 

To reverse bunions, wear toe spacers to keep the big toe straight during the gait cycle, and wear bunion splints at night to keep the joint neutral as it remodels and heals during sleep. 

If something physical causes a musculoskeletal condition, doing the opposite often helps reverse that condition. 

Shoes can cause bunions

If your shoes are too small, or the toe box causes your big toe to curve inward, this can put pressure on your toe, causes the bones of the toe joint to inflame and thicken, resulting in a bunion.

My rule of thumb, if your shoe does not have space for your foot with toe spacers, then the shoe is too small for you.


another CAUSE of foot pain...

Gout is a condition that causes pain in a joint due to urate crystals forming in the joint fluid. These crystals are like little shards of glass that scrape away at the tissue in your joint, causing terrible pain and inflammation. Why do these crystals form? When you eat purine-rich foods (seafood, alcoholic drinks or sweet drinks (especially like fructose) you are taking in more uric acid than your can urinate out, causing higher levels of uric acid in your tissues (like the fluid in your joints). If the uric acid concentration gets high enough, it can form crystals (like if you put enough salt in water, it will form crystals). These crystals are sharp, and if you walk on feet with crystals in the joints, can you see how this will cause multiple micro damage, leading to severe inflammation and pain?

Gout remedy: Eat less purine-rich foods,
and drink more water. 

On top of eating less purine rich foods (seafood, meat, alcohol, sweet drinks, sugar), adding tart cherry supplements also helps prevent gout if you are particularly susceptible to gout.

To learn more about gout, check out:

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Drummond Chiropractic, LLC
Foot Pain Specialists
565 N Walnut St 
Bloomington, IN 47404

(812) 336 - 2423

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