When we tend to think of serious ailments, equally serious symptoms come to mind. Pneumonia, for example, is a severe respiratory condition that occurs when the lungs fill with fluid. We take these conditions very seriously because their implications are just as serious.
But what about a condition like gout? Gout is most commonly associated with aches and pains, with the hallmark symptom being pain in the big toe. In the face of a condition like pneumonia, the toe pain caused by gout can even seem comical! But just because these symptoms seem mild doesn’t mean gout isn’t a serious condition. In fact, gout can have serious ramifications that far exceed shooting toe pain.
A lightning rod for pain
The reason gout is most often associated with toe pain is because this is the first area where the condition usually flairs up. For most people, their big toe suddenly becomes inflamed and painful, feeling as though it’s on fire.
This fiery, stinging sensation is caused by a buildup of uric acid in your joints. There’s not much evidence as to why gout flares up first in the toe, however what is known is that it’s often not purely localized to this joint. Many gout sufferers also experience inflammation and pain in their ankles, wrists, shoulders, knees and other joints that experience heavy usage throughout the day.
The reason the big toe is a focal point for this chronic condition is twofold. First, identifying the hallmark toe pain can give sufferers a chance to act in a way that mitigates more severe attacks. Second, toe pain caused by gout can actually have wide-ranging ramifications, even if it just stays localized to the foot.
Posterior chain problems
You might be wondering, “how can a little toe pain cause so much grief?” The reason gout is such a serious condition isn’t purely because it causes discomfort—it’s because it causes lingering issues.
A person’s big toe is actually a key component of their balance and it’s one of the chief reasons we’re able to stay upright and coordinated while we walk or run. If the big toe becomes compromised, we usually find ways to compensate, such as shifting our weight onto the ball of the foot or pronating the foot slightly. But while this might alleviate some of the pain a gout sufferer feels while walking, it’s actually throwing off the lower posterior chain: the support system that connects your legs, hips and lower back.
An extended gout flare-up in the foot can cause a person to change their entire posture to support themselves. Moving the foot changes the muscles in the leg that are worked, which shifts weight supported by the hips and back, which causes a shift in the spine, and so on. Something as simple as a throbbing, painful big toe can have ramifications that run all the way up the spine!
In addition to the potential for back problems and other support issues, gout can cause intense joint pain that’s hard to keep in check. What starts in the big toe quickly spreads throughout the body as uric crystals begin to compound in other joints. These crystals become extremely painful and cause exacerbated inflammation during a gout flare-up.
In addition to varying levels of joint pain, kidney stones are another concern of gout sufferers. These stones, also comprised of uric acid, are a prospect no one wants to face—passing one can only be described as excruciatingly painful.
Finally, there’s also range of motion concerns. In addition to adjusting their posture to avoid pain, many gout sufferers will inadvertently restrict themselves in their movements. Pronating the foot, for example, can overstretch the hamstring in that leg, making it harder to bend down to touch your toes.
All of this is in conjunction with the actual gout attacks themselves, which will continue unless changes are made to a person’s lifestyle and wellness outlook.
How to stave off gout attacks
While there are medications that can and should be prescribed to chronic gout sufferers, there are also a variety of natural remedies for preventing gout flare-ups or keeping them as minimal as possible. Some examples include:
- Staying well-hydrated to keep uric acid levels as low as possible and to ensure crystals aren’t allowed to form.
- Limiting alcohol intake can help prevent dehydration. Limiting beer has also shown effectiveness in downplaying the symptoms of gout.
- Maintaining a healthy BMI has proven to reduce gout flare-ups and the intensity of flare-ups.
- Supplementing your diet with anti-inflammatories can reduce the intensity of attacks. Good options include turmeric, omega-3 fish oils and cinnamon.
- Taking a probiotic has also proven useful in regulating the gut and the body’s production of uric acid.
Generally, maintaining a healthy body and wellness-oriented outlook is a good approach to combating chronic gout. Understanding what causes your attacks and how to successfully avoid or mitigate them will lead you to living healthier.
Toe pain might seem trivial, but to someone familiar with gout and its painful symptoms, it’s just as serious as a condition like pneumonia. It just goes to show: the body has different ways of telling us something is wrong and no sign should be discounted.