When the tip of the big toe hurts

Assume that your big toe has turned reddish around the nail and hurts a lot, making walking into an ordeal. This Health Tip explains what causes this and why you should see a doctor if you suddenly feel pain on your big toe.
An ingrown toenail, known medically as unguis incarnatus, causes many people to wish they could wear sandals all day. Walking around in closed shoes becomes torture because any external touch or pressure causes extreme discomfort.

The cause of the pain

The big toenail is the one that most often becomes ingrown. However, the problem can also occur in the other toes, as well as in fingers. There are many causes, the most frequent of which are anatomical conditions, wearing shoes that are too tight, and cutting your nails wrong. If a nail is cut incorrectly or too short, its edge can push into the nail bed from the pressure of the shoe, thus damaging the skin and causing it to become inflamed and painful. The Health Tip on SWICA's website explains how to look after your fingernails and toenails properly and thus avoid unpleasant complications.

"It's important not to confuse an ingrown toenail with a gout attack," explains Silke Schmitt Oggier, medical director at santé24. Such an attack causes severe pain, swelling and redness in the ball of the big toe. "Laypeople may not know the difference," Silke Schmitt Oggier continues.

Other symptoms

In addition to throbbing pain, there may also be other symptoms to indicate an ingrown toenail:

  • Redness and swelling of the affected skin area
  • Deformed nail
  • Possibly some pus
It's important not to confuse an ingrown toenail with a gout attack. Laypeople may not know the difference. Dr Silke Schmitt Oggier, Medical Director at santé24

What treatment is there for ingrown nails?

There are two different methods for treating ingrown nails. The first one doesn't require any surgical intervention. For example, a podiatrist will slide a kind of splint under the toenail to prevent it from becoming ingrown further. The splint is then removed a few weeks later. However, this non-surgical method is possible only if the ingrown nail is still at an early stage or the problem has not already occurred several times before.

If this method fails to remedy the condition, a minor operation is necessary. Here, the nail is trimmed under local anaesthesia so that it can grow correctly again. This treatment is administered by a dermatologist or surgeon.


The big toe hurts a lot and is reddish. Walking in closed shoes has become torture. You don't know whether you should go to your family doctor, a pharmacy, or even the hospital? No problem. The BENECURA app from SWICA supports you when you feel unwell or become ill. SWICA customers can use the SymptomCheck feature of the BENECURA app, which was developed by doctors, to obtain information easily, quickly and reliably and immediately receive a personal recommendation about what to do next.
In the event of further health-related questions, SWICA customers can contact the santé24 telemedicine service free of charge on +41 44 404 86 86. A telemedicine practice licence allows santé24 physicians to provide additional medical services in cases that are suited to a telemedicine approach. SWICA customers can also use the BENECURA medical app to carry out a digital SymptomCheck and receive recommendations about what to do next. During a subsequent phone call with santé24, customers can decide for themselves whether to release their information from SymptomCheck to santé24.