What It Means When Your Big Toe Cracks

As kids, we all got a little grossed out when someone cracked their knuckles. As adults, some of us might have that same popping or cracking of the toes or other joints. We might be the only ones who hear it or others might cringe as they hear the sound from several feet away. The name of this condition sounds equally as cringeworthy — crepitus. According to Arthritis Health, you could have crepitus for most of your life or you could notice it as you get older.

What often happens when your toe cracks is an air bubble gets trapped between your joints. You'll hear a popping or cracking sound when this air bubble pops. Your tendons and ligaments are also moving around your joints and could create a snapping sound when moving around the bone. If this cracking or popping doesn't cause pain, crepitus isn't usually a concern. However, if you experience other symptoms when your big toe cracks, it could indicate other conditions.

A big toe cracking could mean arthritis

According to New York Foot Health, cracking or popping in your toes can be a problem if you have other symptoms — such as pain that worsens with activity, stiffness, joint swelling, limited range of motion, redness around the joint, difficulty bearing weight or walking, and a feeling of warmth in the joint. If you experience symptoms like these, your cracking big toe could indicate arthritis. Although arthritis is a general term for joint problems, certain types of arthritis could specifically impact your feet such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout.

You're at a greater risk for arthritis if you're older, overweight, or wear tight-fitting heels, according to Northeast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. You're also more likely to have arthritis if members of your family have had arthritis. 

You can ease arthritis pain in your feet by using a topical treatment that has capsaicin, such as Icy Hot. Wiggling your toes, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), and getting foot massages can also help with arthritis symptoms. You might also consider swapping your footwear to support your feet.

Other reasons for your big toe cracking

Northeast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine says that Lyme disease, HIV, chikungunya, and other infections could have symptoms similar to arthritis. Lupus occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own healthy tissues and could cause pain in your toes and other joints. Pain in your toes could also indicate vasculitis, where your blood vessels have inflammation. Morton's neuroma can cause pain in your toes because of inflammation in the tissues surrounding a nerve in your foot.

Any cracking of your big toe (or any toe) could also mean a broken toe, according to Feet First Foot Care. A broken toe might make a cracking sound, and you'll also experience pain and swelling. A podiatrist or other medical professional can diagnose a broken toe through an X-ray. Small fractures in a toe might heal by taping it to an uninjured toe or wearing a shoe that immobilizes the injured toe, according to Mayo Clinic. You might need to wear a cast to allow a broken toe to heal.