Why Does Stubbing Your Toe Hurt So Bad?

Last updated: 09-23-2020

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Why Does Stubbing Your Toe Hurt So Bad?

If you’re like most people, odds are you’ve stubbed your toe on the dining room chair or that kitchen island once in your life, and man does it ever hurt. For being such a small part of your body, stubbing your big toe or your pinky toe can leave you howling in pain. But why is that? Today, we explain why such a seemingly minor injury can be so painful in today’s blog.
Stubbing Your Toe

To better understand why stubbing your toe can hurt so bad, we first must take a closer look at the anatomy of your feet and toes. Each toe has two nerves, one on either side of it. So no matter how you stub your toe, it’s going to cause a nerve impulse to be sent from your toe to your brain.

This nerve impulse is conducted by sensory neurons called nociceptors, which fire when an external stimulus, like cold, heat or acute trauma affects the area. They relay this sensory information almost immediately, which is why you’ll feel that first twang of pain right away after stubbing your toe.

Additionally, there are smaller, thinner nerve fibers in our toes that fire a little slower and produce what you may notice as secondary pain. This is often categorized as a dull burning sensation that lingers a little longer. But it’s not just the nerves that are affected when you stub your toe.

You’re also subjecting your skin, nail and bone to physical trauma. Rubbing the site can attempt to distract the sensory nerves and your toe from the trauma it just incurred, but the trauma may cause more than surface level pain. You can bruise your nail bed, which can lead to bleeding and compression of areas in your toe.

Finally, as you’re probably aware, you don’t have much fat or muscle to help protect the toe from injury. Your abs or your butt may have a decent amount of natural padding, but you won’t find that on your big or pinky toe. Because your toe bones are not well-cushioned, you can pretty easily suffer a bone bruise, which can lead to weeks of pain when putting pressure on the toe. During severe stubs, you can even suffer a toe fracture. If pain persists for more than a couple hours, it’s black and blue, or is swollen and visibly misaligned, set up a consultation with a foot specialist.


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