Why Gout Is Often In Your Big Toe
Over 8 million people suffer from gout – an extremely painful form of arthritis that pops up in a joint (or a few joints) seemingly overnight and sticks around for a few extremely uncomfortable days or even weeks.
And strangely enough, most of these 8 million people share something in common: the location of the gout attack.
Though the body has 360 joints, gout attacks most often choose two – either the base of the big toe on your left foot or the base of your big toe on your right foot.
So what’s the deal with the big toe and gout? Why there? I’m here to show you.
We are going to go over symptoms of gout flare-ups in your big toe, as well as treatment and prevention tips. But we are also going to dive into the strange reasons why gout so often ends up in this one location.
Symptoms of Gout In Your Big Toe
So when you experience gout in your big toe – what exactly does it feel like? At first you may just feel like your big toe is burning. Then the hallmark signs of gout will begin to show up:
- Limited range of motion
- Lingering discomfort
In most cases, these gout symptoms start during the night. The average gout attack will last between 3 to 10 days. As time goes on, the symptoms should become less sharp. If they last longer than 10 days, go see your doctor.
What Causes Gout In Your Big Toe?
To figure out why your big toe is in such pain and swelling, we have to start at the beginning: purines.
Purines are healthy, natural parts of living things (including you!). We produce our own purines and consume purines when we eat certain foods – especially meat. There is nothing innately wrong or unhealthy about purines. They are simply a part of DNA.
Our bodies break down these purines and create a waste product called uric acid. In a healthy body, uric acid will dissolve in the blood, enter the kidneys, and eventually get passed through your urine.
But two things can go wrong.
- Perhaps your body overproduces uric acid: This could be because you eat too many purines, don’t drink enough water, or plenty of other internal reasons
- Or your body does not remove enough uric acid: This is oven because the kidneys are not excreting enough into your urine stream.
At this point, your body has too much uric acid.
All this uric acid starts to build up, which creates something called urate crystals. These are sharp, often compared to needles. They will travel to a joint – most of the time the big toe – and cause all sorts of inflammation, pain, and swelling.
This is gout.
If you have a strong stomach and want to see what these actual crystals look like in a real big toe, check out this very short video of a urate crystal removal surgery. You will suddenly have a very clear understanding why it hurts so much.
(Side note: that same uric acid buildup could also produce uric acid kidney stones. Both gout and kidney stones are extremely painful. So the lesson here should be… never allow too much uric acid to build up. Tips on that below.)
But Why Do Urate Crystals “Choose” The Big Toe?
So we know how gout starts: purines and uric acid.
And we know that those urate crystals often go straight to the big toe.
But why the big toe? Why don’t they often go to another joint? After all, it does have 358 other options in the body.
Researchers believe the connection between gout and the big toe happens for many different reasons:
- The big toe is already more susceptible to arthritis, and gout is technically classified as a type of arthritis.
- Joints that have had more trauma tend to get more gout. Think about how many times you have stubbed, hurt, or injured your big toe; it’s very common
- Urate crystals tend to go to “cooler” joints on the side of your body.
RELATED: Major Symptoms of Gout Flare-Ups
Ways To Improve Big Toe Gout Pain
When you do have a gout attack in your toe, there’s no immediate cure. You will just have to ride out the pain for a few days/a couple weeks.
But there are a few ways to manage the pain. Here are some of the best tips for doing just that:
1. Take a Pain Killer
Over-the-counter NSAIDs should be able to relieve some of your pain. But since gout attacks can be excruciating, they may not make it all better.
Some people go to their doctor for prescription pain killers. Of course, not all people can take prescription pain killers, so there are a few other ways to help you manage the pain.
2. Take an All-Natural Gout Supplement
Our natural world also makes so many medicinal supplements that can help you overcome health problems like gout without bad side effects. Top ingredients to support your body’s ability to remove uric acid include:
- Cherries: The same cherries you love to snack on have the power to both lower uric acid in the body and reduce inflammation – perfect for a gout attack
- Celery Seed Extract: Not only is celery seed a great anti-inflammatory, it also can help with the pain of inflammatory conditions.
- Chanca Piedra: This herb focuses on the inflammation in your join and it can lower your chances of also developing a uric acid kidney stone – it’s a must-take
- Hydrangea Extract: This option can improve your joint heath and manage your body’s inflammation
3. Make a Special Sock
Most people with gout will tell you that the pain of gout is so strong, you cannot even have any fabric touch your big toe. To keep your feet warm, simply cut the big toe out of a sock.
If you have a hard time keeping a conventional sock on like this, you can also try to buy a pair of toe socks and cut out that first big toe shape.
4. Sleep With One Foot Out
In a similar fashion, you are probably not going to feel like having your sheet or blanket over your foot during bedtime. So put on your special gout sock and sleep with your foot out of the covers for a few nights.
5.Use a Cane
In an ideal world, you’d be able to take a few days off of work and responsibilities to heal up from your gout attack. But we don’t always live in the ideal world.
If you still have to move around while you are in the heat of a gout attack, absolutely use a cane to help you walk. This can steady you so you don’t have to put any pressure on your big toe.
RELATED: 3 Critical Foods To Avoid for Gout
Ways To Stop Another Big Toe Gout Attack
Once your symptoms subside, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of developing another gout attack in your big toe – or anywhere else in your body. The biggest goal here is reducing the build-up of uric acid in your body.
1. Talk To Your Doctor
You may need to go on a medication that manages uric acid for a time. There are prescriptions that lower the production of uric acid and prescriptions that improve the uric acid removal process. Your doctor will have the insight on which is right for you.
2. Stay On Your Natural Gout Supplement
That all-natural gout supplement with cherry, celery seed, chanca piedra, and hydrangea does not only have to be used during an actual gout attack. You can also take it to reduce your risks of another attack. Talk to your doctor or naturopath about how long you should stay on it.
3. Lower Purines
This is a huge step to take; one that you absolutely must not ignore. Purines are the reason we have uric acid, so you need to limit those purines to limit uric acid.
They key is to completely avoid high purine foods like:
- Organ meats (liver, kidney, sweetbreads)
- Game meats (venison)
- Some seafood (anchovies, sardines, scallops, tuna, mackerel)
And to – at least – reduce moderate purine foods like:
- Other seafood
For many people this means adopting a vegetarian or vegan meal plan at least a few days a week.
4. Work Out
Regular exercise is a must for any person with gout. There are many ways that exercise actually improves gout/reduces future risk:
- It helps you lose weight – obesity is a risk factor for gout
- It helps you manage the stress of your condition
- It helps you keep an overall healthy body
The only time you shouldn’t be exercising regularly is during a gout attack episode. Your joint/joints are already inflamed and too much activity can make it worse. Wait until your symptoms are completely gone and then start your routine again. Don’t make your first couple workout sessions too difficult either; ease your body back into it.
No More Big Toe Gout Attacks
Keep in mind that even though the big toe is the most common place for a gout attack, it really can pop up about anywhere. So if you experience any of the gout symptoms at the top of the article in another joint, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
The treatment and prevention tips are almost identical for other joints – you’ll just have to get creative about making materials to keep you warm without touching the inflamed area. Think mittens with the thumb cut out, leggings with the knee cut out, etc.
If you follow these tips and work hard at lowering your uric acid content, you should hopefully no longer deal with big toe gout attacks – or at least they should be fewer and farther between.