Toe pain can be mysterious. There are numerous causes, and sometimes you can live your life assuming you know why it’s there, only to be completely wrong! Case in point: a lesser-known toe condition called capsulitis.
Capsulitis is an overuse injury that mainly targets the second toe and the surrounding area. Today we’ll thoroughly dive into the topic by addressing the following:
- What is capsulitis?
- Symptoms of capsulitis
- Causes of capsulitis
- Treatment and prevention
What is Capsulitis?
Capsulitis, also known as frozen toe, hallux rigidus or turf toe, is a foot condition characterized by joint inflammation in the area where the base of the toe meets the ball of the foot. The specific area affected is called a “capsule” and is technically a dense ligament structure found at the base of the joint. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, capsulitis in the feet usually targets the second toe. However, it can sometimes affect the big toe and the third and fourth toes. Another technical term for capsulitis in the toe is metatarsophalangeal synovitis (MTP joint pain).
Healthline also notes that capsulitis is often confused with Morton’s Neuroma since pain radiates toward the ball of the foot in both conditions. However, Morton’s Neuroma results from compressed nerves and capsulitis from inflammation. A chiropodist can help you tell the difference between the two conditions.
Symptoms of Capsulitis
Capsulitis often worsens as time progresses. This means that symptoms can vary depending on the stages of development. It’s important to be in tune with your foot health and seek help if you notice the following:
- Pain in the ball of the foot.
- A persistent feeling that something is “bunched up” in your shoe or the feeling that you’re walking on a pebble or marble.
- Swelling in the base of the affected toe.
- Discomfort while wearing shoes.
- Pain that worsens when you’re barefoot.
- Crossover toe: as degradation of the ligament progresses, the joint in the second toe can fail to stabilize (stay in the right position). This can cause your second toe to move towards the big toe and lay on top of it.
What are Some Causes of Capsulitis?
Capsulitis is technically an overuse injury that targets the ball of the foot. And as with many foot conditions, one issue can often be a risk factor in developing another.
The following may lead to capsulitis development:
- There is a connection between severe bunions and capsulitis. Other prominent foot deformities like hammertoes can also be a risk factor. Both conditions can lead to too much pressure on the ball of the foot and subsequent inflammation.
- Abnormal foot mechanics can put you at risk. It’s important to note that this is not the same as a severe foot deformity. It simply means any mild structural factors that lead to excessive weight-bearing pressure in the ball of the foot underneath the toe.
- If your second toe is longer than your big toe, you may experience capsulitis.
- An unstable foot arch, like high arches and flat feet, can contribute to capsulitis.
- Excessive bending of the toes. This can happen if you wear poorly designed shoes or high heels.
Capsulitis Treatment and Prevention
It’s relatively easy to tackle early-stage toe capsulitis. You can purchase many items from a pharmacy, general store or foot clinic that can relieve the pain. A chiropodist can also use their unique expertise to ensure the condition improves.
Here are some effective treatment methods:
- Ice or heat packs. Compression can help reduce swelling, and applying heat or ice (while resting with your foot elevated) can help with pain management.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen.
- Supportive footwear with proper arch support and strong soles. Rocker bottom-sole shoes can be especially helpful as they offset pressure away from the ball of your foot.
- Custom orthotics can lessen excessive pressure on the weight-bearing foot areas.
- Toe taping can align the second toe and prevent crossover toe.
Unfortunately, if crossover toe is present, it usually means that the second toe will never revert to its natural position without intervention. If this is the case, you may need surgery from a foot and ankle surgeon.