Bursitis in the Big Toe

Bursitis is a condition where a fluid filled sac in the joints (called a bursal sac) becomes inflamed. Bursal sacs occur throughout the body, and their function is to provide cushioning between the bones, tendons and other soft tissues. There are two located in the heel, one at the back and one underneath, and these are common locations for bursitis, although many people also get bursitis in the toes. Bursitis can be a cause of big toe pain, although due to many health practitioners not experiencing the condition frequently, it can often be misdiagnosed as gout.


Bursitis in the foot most commonly occurs at points where pressure is applied regularly such as the heel, ball of the foot, and toes. Over time, the pressure from walking or from poor quality or ill fitting footwear can cause a bursal sac to become inflamed. As the pressure continues, the bursal sac can also become swollen making the condition more severe. Bursitis is caused by activities such as walking or running, and is especially common in highly active individuals such as runners, joggers and athletes. Due to the extra forces placed on the ball of the foot and the toes by high heeled shoes, women are at risk of developing bursitis, as are those who are overweight or obese. When pressure from footwear causes bursitis, common locations are the back of the ankle, the top of the middle toe, especially with those who have hammer toes as this condition pushes the middle toes up where they can rub against the shoes. The big and little toe are also common locations, with bursitis more common with those suffering from bunions or bunionettes.
Symptoms of bursitis include pain and swelling around the bursal sac, which is experienced as joint pain, with the pain worse when applying pressure to the affected area. If a swollen bursal sac puts pressure on the muscles and tendons, the area may feel weak and get easily fatigued.
There are several at-home treatment options for bursitis in the feet. Easing the pressure on the bursal sac, either through a change in footwear, padding around the affected area, or resting for a few days may provide adequate relief and I one of the best first line treatments. Using ice is an effective treatment for many people who suffer from bursitis. Apply ice to the affected area for fifteen minutes maximum in one session, and remove ice if the skin becomes numb. Ice helps to reduce inflammation and reduce swelling, whilst heat can increase the inflammation and swelling. Taking anti-inflammatory medications can also reduce inflammation.
Steroid injections are common and an effective bursitis treatment, not just in the big toe but in other areas of the body when bursitis strikes. Although these injections can certainly treat bursitis in the feet, there is some evidence that steroid injections into the fatty pads in the ball and heel of the foot can lead to these areas degenerating, possibly causing even more pain in the future and leaving one more likely to develop further problems. As a one off treatment, they can offer rapid pain relief.