What could be causing my pinky toe pain?

Dr. Courtney Conley (DC, BS’s in Kinesiology & Human Biology)
Pinky toe pain can be a frustrating and uncomfortable.
Introduction

Introduction

Pinky toe pain can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience, and there are many different potential causes. One possible cause of pinky toe pain is Tailor's bunions, a condition that affects the joint at the base of the little toe. 

However, there are other potential causes of pinky toe pain, including ingrown toenails, corns and calluses, hammertoe, fracture, and arthritis. In this article, we'll explore these potential causes in more detail, as well as discuss symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and prevention strategies for pinky toe pain.

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Understanding Tailor’s Bunions

Tailor's bunions, also known as bunionettes, are a type of foot deformity that affects the joint at the base of the little toe
Understanding Tailor’s Bunions

Tailor’s bunions, also known as bunionettes, are a type of foot deformity that affects the joint at the base of the little toe. They are similar to regular bunions, which affect the joint at the base of the big toe, but Tailor’s bunions are less common and occur in a different location.

The primary characteristic of a Tailor’s bunion is a bony bump on the outside of the foot near the base of the little toe. This bump can become red, swollen, and painful, especially when wearing tight or narrow shoes. In some cases, a callus or corn may also form over the bump.

The exact causes of Tailor’s bunions are not fully understood, but they are believed to be primarily caused by repetitive stress on the foot, as well as improperly fitting footwear. Tight shoes can put pressure on the outside of the foot and exacerbate the development of a Tailor’s bunion, causing pinky toe pain. Additionally, certain foot shapes or inherited foot structures may make some individuals more susceptible to developing a Tailor’s bunion. More factors that can contribute to the development of Tailor’s bunions include arthritis, injury, and muscle imbalances in the foot.

Other Possible Causes of Pinky Toe Pain

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Other Possible Causes of Pinky Toe Pain

In addition to Tailor’s bunions, there are several other potential causes of pinky toe pain, including:

  1. Ingrown toenail: An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of the nail grows into the skin, causing pain, redness, and swelling. This condition can be caused by improper nail trimming, tight shoes, or injury.
  2. Corns and calluses: Corns and calluses are areas of thickened skin that form in response to pressure or friction. They can develop on the toes, including the pinky toe, and can be painful or uncomfortable when wearing shoes.
  3. Hammertoes: Hammertoes is a condition that occurs when one of the toes becomes permanently bent at the joint. This can cause pain, discomfort, and difficulty wearing shoes.
  4. Fracture: A fracture, or broken bone, can occur in any of the bones in the foot, including those in the pinky toe. Fractures can cause pain, swelling, and difficulty bearing weight on the affected foot.
  5. Arthritis: Arthritis is a condition that affects the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, can cause pain and deformity in the small joints of the toes, including the pinky toe.

Identifying the specific cause of pinky toe pain is important in determining the best course of treatment. If you are experiencing persistent or severe pain, it’s important to seek medical attention to properly diagnose and treat the issue. At Gait Happens we offer Virtual consultations with our highly qualified clinicians. You can learn more about those and book to see a Gait Happens clinician here.

Symptoms of Pinky Toe Pain

Pinky toe pain can manifest in several different ways, depending on the underlying cause.
Symptoms of Pinky Toe Pain

Pinky toe pain can manifest in several different ways, depending on the underlying cause. Common symptoms associated with pinky toe pain include:

  1. Pain, redness, and swelling on or around the pinky toe: Pain (of course) is the most common symptom of pinky toe pain, and it can be felt anywhere from mild discomfort to severe, debilitating pain. Redness and swelling are often present, especially in cases of injury or infection.
  2. Corns or calluses forming on the affected area: Corns and calluses are thickened areas of skin that develop in response to pressure or friction. They can form on the toes, including the pinky toe, and can be painful or uncomfortable when wearing shoes.
  3. Limited mobility and discomfort when wearing shoes: Pinky toe pain can make it difficult to walk or stand, and it can be especially uncomfortable when wearing shoes that rub against or put pressure on the affected area.
    In cases of Tailor’s bunions, the pain is typically located on the outside of the foot near the base of the little toe. In addition to pain, there may be a visible bump or swelling in this area.

It’s important to note that other potential causes of pinky toe pain may have slightly different symptoms. For example, an ingrown toenail may be associated with tenderness and a visible redness around the affected toenail, while a fracture may cause immediate, sharp pain and difficulty putting weight on the affected foot.

If you are experiencing persistent or severe pinky toe pain, it’s important to seek medical attention to properly diagnose and treat the issue. You can do this online with a Gait Happens clinician here

Image of the difference between a normal foot and a foot with bunions.
Diagnosis

Diagnosis

Diagnosing the cause of pinky toe pain typically involves an examination of the foot by a medical professional. During the examination, the healthcare provider may ask about the symptoms and duration of the pain, as well as any relevant medical history or recent injuries.

In some cases, imaging tests such as X-rays or MRIs may be ordered to determine the extent of the injury or deformity. These tests can help identify the underlying cause of the pain, such as a fracture or arthritis. X-rays can also be used to diagnose Tailor’s bunions or other foot deformities.

Blood tests or other diagnostic tests may also be ordered to identify potential underlying conditions that may be contributing to the pinky toe pain, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

Based on the results of the examination and any diagnostic tests, the healthcare provider will make a diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options. In some cases, a referral to a specialist such as a podiatrist may be necessary for further evaluation and treatment.

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Treatment Options

The treatment for pinky toe pain will depend on the underlying cause. Here are some of the treatment options for pinky toe pain, including those associated with Tailor’s bunions and other potential causes:

  1. Wearing properly fitting shoes: If the pain is caused by tight or ill-fitting shoes, the first step is to switch to shoes that fit properly and have a wider toe box to reduce pressure on the toes. We prefer zero drop shoes (where the heel and toe are on the same plane) to avoid excessive load into the forefoot. You can find our Gait Happens recommendations for footwear here.
  2. Using padding or cushioning to alleviate pressure on the affected area: Adding padding or cushioning to the shoes or the affected area can help reduce pressure and alleviate pain.
  3. Taking anti-inflammatory medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. We only recommend using these for a short period of time.
  4. Undergoing surgery or other medical procedures to correct the issue: If the pain is caused by a more serious issue, such as a Tailor’s bunion, hammertoe, or fracture, surgery or other medical procedures may be necessary to correct the problem, but only in the most severe cases. At Gait Happens we always recommend trying every other possible route before considering surgery.

Additional Treatment Options

In addition to the above treatment options, physical therapy or exercises to strengthen the foot and improve flexibility may be recommended to prevent future issues. We have a 12-week foot fitness program tailored to the specific needs of your feet called the Fit Feet Program. This program is the result of years of clinical practice and is carefully designed by clinicians to ensure your feet get exactly what they need to be strong and pain-free. Check out the Fit Feet program here.

Proper foot hygiene, including regularly trimming toenails and maintaining good foot health, can also help prevent pinky toe pain.

It’s important to seek medical attention if the pain is severe or persistent, or if there are signs of infection or other serious issues. A medical professional can help diagnose the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment options. You can book to see a Gait Happens clinician online here.

Prevention

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Prevention

Preventing pinky toe pain is often easier than treating it. Here are some tips for preventing pinky toe pain:

  1. Wearing properly fitting shoes with a wide toe box: Shoes that are too tight or narrow can cause pressure and friction on the toes, leading to pain and discomfort. Shoes with a wider toe box can help reduce pressure and prevent pain. Zero drop shoes also put less pressure on the front of the foot, reducing the demand on your pinky toe. Find our Gait Happens footwear recommendations here.
  2. Avoiding high heels and shoes with pointed toes: High heels and shoes with pointed toes can cause the toes to become cramped, leading to pain and discomfort. Choosing shoes with a zero drop heel and a rounded or square toe can help prevent pinky toe pain.
  3. Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce stress on the feet: Excess weight can put additional stress on the feet, leading to pain and discomfort. Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce stress on the feet and prevent pinky toe pain.
  4. Practicing good foot hygiene: Regularly trimming toenails and keeping feet clean and dry can help prevent issues such as ingrown toenails and fungal infections.
  5. Stretching and strengthening exercises: Stretching and strengthening exercises can help improve foot flexibility and strength, reducing the risk of injury and pain. Get a 12-week targeted program for strong, active feet here.

By following these tips, individuals can reduce their risk of developing pinky toe pain and other foot issues. If pain does develop, seeking medical attention promptly can help prevent further damage and ensure proper treatment.

When to Seek Medical Help

Some cases of pinky toe pain can be treated at home. However, there are times when it’s important to seek medical attention. Here are some situations when you should seek medical help for pinky toe pain:

  1. If the pain is severe or persistent. If the pain is severe or doesn’t improve with home treatment, it’s important to seek medical attention. Severe or persistent pain can be a sign of a more serious issue that requires medical attention.
  2. If the affected area is showing signs of infection. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, warmth, and tenderness around the affected area. If you notice these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.
  3. If there are signs of a fracture or other serious injury. Signs of a fracture or other serious injury include immediate, sharp pain, difficulty putting weight on the affected foot, and visible deformity. If you suspect a fracture or other serious injury, seek medical attention right away.
  4. If the pain is affecting your daily life. If the pain is interfering with your ability to walk, stand, or perform daily activities, it’s important to seek medical attention to identify and treat the underlying cause.

In general, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention if you’re unsure about the severity of your pinky toe pain. A medical professional can help diagnose the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment options, reducing the risk of further damage and ensuring proper healing. Our Gait Happens clinicians would love to help, and you can see one from the comfort of your home!

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Conclusion

Pinky toe pain can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience, but there are many different potential causes and treatment options available. It’s important to identify the underlying cause of the pain and seek professional advice to prevent further damage and alleviate pain.

Tailor’s bunions, ingrown toenails, corns and calluses, hammertoe, fracture, and arthritis are all potential causes of pinky toe pain. Identifying the specific cause of the pain is important in determining the best course of treatment.

Treatment options for pinky toe pain may include wearing properly fitting shoes, using padding or cushioning to alleviate pressure on the affected area to reduce inflammation and pain, taking anti-inflammatory medications. In the most severe cases you may undergo surgery or other medical procedures to correct the issue.

Preventing pinky toe pain is often easier than treating it. Following a few simple tips such as wearing properly fitting shoes, maintaining a healthy weight, and practicing good foot hygiene can help reduce the risk of developing pinky toe pain.

If you experience persistent or severe pinky toe pain, it’s important to seek medical attention. A medical professional can help identify the underlying cause of the pain. They can then recommend appropriate treatment options, reducing the risk of further damage and ensuring proper healing.

Tailor's Bunion

3 Videos

Tailor's bunions video 1


Tailor's bunions video 1

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Tailor's bunions video 2


Tailor's bunions video 2

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Tailor's bunions video 3


Tailor's bunions video 3

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FAQs

What are the main causes of tailor’s bunions?

Tailor’s bunions are primarily caused by external factors such as wearing ill-fitting shoes and engaging in repetitive activities or overuse with poor form that strain the foot’s structure.

Can footwear choices lead to tailor’s bunions?

Yes, footwear choices play a significant role in the development of tailor’s bunions. Wearing tight-fitting shoes, high heels, or shoes with narrow toe boxes can cause the foot to be improperly aligned, leading to the formation of tailor’s bunions.

What types of shoes can cause tailor’s bunions?

Shoes with narrow toe boxes, high heels, and tight-fitting footwear can contribute to the development of tailor’s bunions by putting pressure on the side of the foot and altering foot alignment.

How do overuse and repetitive activities contribute to tailor’s bunions?

Overuse and repetitive activities can strain the foot’s structure, leading to the formation of tailor’s bunions. Constant pressure or repetitive motion on the forefoot especially with incorrect form can cause inflammation and instability in the metatarsophalangeal joint, resulting in the development of a bunion.

What activities can lead to tailor’s bunions?

Activities that involve frequent pressure on the forefoot or repetitive motions can increase the risk of tailor’s bunions. Examples include ballet dancing, soccer, basketball, running, or any sport or occupation that requires constant weight-bearing or pushing off with the toes.

How can understanding the causes of tailor’s bunions help prevent future occurrences?

Understanding the root causes of tailor’s bunions allows individuals to make informed choices about footwear, lifestyle modifications, and preventive measures. By addressing these causes, individuals can reduce the risk of future occurrences and promote foot health and comfort.

What preventive measures can be taken to avoid tailor’s bunions?

To prevent tailor’s bunions, it is recommended to wear proper footwear with sufficient toe room, avoid tight-fitting shoes and high heels, and practice foot exercises to strengthen the foot’s structure. Additionally, being mindful of overuse and ensuring proper rest and recovery can help prevent the development of bunions.

Are there non-surgical treatment options for tailor’s bunions?

Yes, non-surgical treatment options for tailor’s bunions include padding and splinting, medications for pain relief and inflammation reduction and physical therapy exercises to improve foot strength and flexibility.

When should I consider surgical treatment for tailor’s bunions?

Surgical treatment for tailor’s bunions is typically considered when non-surgical methods fail to provide adequate relief or if the condition severely affects daily activities and quality of life. It is best to consult with a foot specialist who can assess your specific situation and recommend the most suitable surgical option, if necessary.

*Please note that the answers provided here are for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan based on your specific condition.

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