Stabbing pain in big toes

My GP hasn’t been much help when I’ve visited and described my foot pain, so I’m trying to do some research to limit the pain myself. I have very large big toes (twice as wide as the second toe and almost twice as long). It means a lot of pressure and most of my balance is provided by my big toes. I used to regularly get cramp in my big toes (they’d be stuck downwards) as a child / teenager which would involve removing my shoes and massaging my feet / doing ankle raises to stretch the muscle back out. For the last ten years (I’m now 31), my big toes have felt slightly numb (the sensation when you sit on your hand and then rub it as it starts to come back before the pins and needles start). If I stand for a long period of time, my feet get really cold and go completely numb. I can move my big toes independantly to the others, but the other four toes can only move as a block, so wiggling my toes to warm them doesn’t work.

Anyway, that’s the background. The problem I’m having is intense pain in my big toes during excercise. I do traditional English dancing wearing wooden-soled clogs with leather uppers as a hobby and dance most weekends, with training during the week in trainers. My big toes begin to feel a bit bashed and numb, then they throb and then suddenly it feels like long needles being stabbed into them from the direction of the end of the toes back towards the heel. It’s so painful that I can’t put any weight on my toes at all – I have to put my weight on my heels to walk to somewhere I can sit and remove my shoes. It came on last week and was so painful I was unable to walk for two hours afterwards, and during this time I couldn’t move my feet at all – the pain was agonising just swinging my legs to try to make sure blood was flowing to my feet. The speed in which it came on, the regularity of it, and a look at the clogs I was wearing that day (my big toes have bent the leather into their shape) suggested to a friend on the team who is a nurse that my toes were too squashed and I’d done some nerve damage. This lead me to look at your descriptions of Metatarsalgia ad Morton’s Neuroma, but neither seem to fit with all the pain being in the big toes alone.

My left foot has a dropped arch (this happened as a teenager and I believe is inherited from my maternal grandfather who had flat feet); my right foot has a normal arch. The pain usually starts in the left foot, but I automatically favour my right foot at this point and the pain is soon in both feet. My feet often swell if I’m dancing in clogs for two-plus days continuously, and by three days they’re so swollen that I can’t fit them back into my clogs. I’ve had my right foot x-rayed in the past following a big bruise appearing in the upper centre of my foot along with the swelling, but nothing could be seen (GP suggested I’d sprained something and that it’s not linked to my toe pain because I’ve only experienced the bruise and centre-foot pain once). I’ve been dancing since I was sixteen and the pain is getting stronger and comes on much quicker – in my early 20s it was on the second afternoon of dancing whereas last week it was after just four dances on the first morning.

I’ve tried gel inserts in my clogs which makes them more comfortable and slows the bashing / throbbing / pain flow but nothing seems to stop it. I’ve also bought clogs with much higher clearance above my toes so that I can stretch my big toes up every so often. My feet are fine in trainers (with good arch supports), but anything harder (walking boots, work shoes etc) will still give me the same symptoms as my clogs over time. I’ve always avoided taking painkillers or Ibuprofin in case it masks something serious, but can I try this? My feet don’t yet feel back to normal a week after the last episode (we’ve had a weekend off) and I’m due to dance again in clogs in six days time. Any advice would be much appreciated, especially anything I can take back to my GP so that further investigation can take place instead of the last response of “if trainers are comfortable then dance in those”…

Many thanks,

One Response

  1. Foot-com

    Hello and thank you for the question. Without examining you it is difficult for me to say exactly what may be causing your foot pain and numbness however I will do my best to give suggestions.

    I would recommend seeing a Podiatrist, not a GP, as a Podiatrist is more familiar with foot biomechanics, vascular and nerve health. If you do have repeated compression to nerves from tight shoes you can cause nerve damage leading to numbness, burning, pain.

    Again this is best determined by examining your foot in person. If this is the case, then what I would suggest is to try and get wider shoes or take frequent breaks during the dancing. In addition, I would integrate foot / calf stretches every night for at least 10 minutes.

    You may also want to consider nerve protective vitamins such as L-methyl folate, acetyl-L-carnitine or alpha lipoic acid. I hope this helps until you are able to see a Podiatrist!

    Dr. Emily Splichal
    Please be advised: we do not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
    By law, we cannot give specific medical advice over the Internet.

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