Actually, you have two of them.

We’re talking about your big toes. They play an essential role in your balance, health, and movement.

Henry found out that fact the hard way.

As Henry walked down his steps while talking on the phone, he slipped and slid down the last two steps with his big toe folded under his body.

Knowing it was too late to visit a doctor, the emergency room was the only option for care that evening. To avoid a costly medical bill, Henry decided to wait until Bone & Joint opened in the morning. He would visit the Walk-In Care center.

Henry thought it would be a straight-forward appointment. He told his wife, “It’s just my toe. It’s like breaking a rib. The doctors will take an X-ray and wrap it to the next toe to keep it from moving. It’s just my toe; it’s not that important.”

After elevating his toe and icing it every 20-minutes, Henry hobbled up the steps to go to bed. He piled pillows at the end of the bed to prop up his foot. He placed a pillow under the opposite knee to prevent low back pain as he slept in this odd position.

The next morning Henry limped into Bone & Joint and explained what had happened. The doctors suggested an X-ray as Henry thought they would. He was pretty sure it was broken, and he was right.

The doctor confirmed a broken big toe. There was actually a small bone fragment that had broken off but was still resting “in place.” The doctor expected that Henry’s toe would heal well.

Up to this point, Henry’s experience was everything he expected.

What happened next surprised him.

The doctor told Henry that his assistant would apply a cast to immobilize Henry’s foot. The cast would extend from his foot to his knee. Henry would need to use crutches for at least the first few weeks. After that, the doctor would take another X-ray. If things were healing well, Henry would convert to a walking cast for a few weeks.

“My entire lower leg needs to be in a cast?” Henry asked.

Henry learned that breaking your big toe was a huge deal.

Dr. Thomas Staysniak, a podiatrist at Bone & Joint, explained that the big toe has an important job. To make sure Henry enjoyed the same quality of movement and range of motion he did before the break, Dr. Staysniak prescribed the cast.

The mechanics of leg and foot movement use the big toe (also known as the hallux) for leverage as the foot pushes off the ground when a person walks or runs. If the big toe fails, people have more difficulty with balance and momentum.

If the bone fragment in Henry’s toe moved out of position, Henry would not be able to walk, run, or move as quickly and easily as he could before. He also would have a higher risk of experiencing pain with each step.

In Henry’s case, a fracture caused the concern, but several other conditions affect the big toe’s health.


The joint between the big toe and the foot is a common location for arthritis. Arthritis causes pain, which can lead to a loss of mobility.


Gout, a type of inflammatory arthritis, often starts in the big toe. The painful condition occurs when uric acid builds up in the body. People who suffer with gout in the great toe joint experience pain with each step.

Turf toe

Turf toe is a sprained great toe joint. It is an overuse injury usually caused by pushing off the toe on hard surfaces. Turf toe got its name when AstroTurf was installed in football stadiums. After practicing on the hard surface, many players complained of pain in their big toes.


Bunions, bony growths on the inside edge of the foot at the base of the big toe, can cause intense pain and pressure.


Sesamoiditis describes the inflammation of the sesamoid bone at the base of the big toe. Pulley-like tendons and muscles connected sesamoids to your big toes.

Besides these conditions, great toes can be injured when:

  • heavy objects drop on them
  • they are jammed into tables, chairs, or walls
  • people train aggressively and push off their feet.

If you experience toe pain or discomfort at the base of your big toe, contact your primary care provider, podiatrist, or orthopedic specialist. Sore toes can lead to other problems when they are not treated promptly and properly.

Dr. Thomas Staysniak and Dr. Paul Strobel are podiatrists at Bone & Joint. These foot and ankle specialists see patients in Medford, Merrill, and Wausau. They can diagnose and treat the source of your foot pain to restore your foot to the best pain-free movement possible.