Top 8 Ways to Care For Capsulitis

Apr 12, 2021

Capsulitis of the second toe might not have the same “name brand recognition” as other high-profile foot deformities like bunions or hammertoes. But this frustrating condition is more common than you might think—and if left unchecked, can cause significant pain and deformity in the toe, ultimately leading to it “crossing over” the big toe.

In other words, if you think you might have this condition—or really any painful problem affecting your feet or toes—taking swift action is always the best bet. The good news is that, quite often, the progression of capsulitis can be halted or slowed with conservative measures.

But first:

What Is Capsulitis and Do I Have It?

Capsulitis is an injury to the ligaments that surround the joint (and form a “capsule”) at the base of a toe. The second toe is by far the most common affected digit, although capsulitis can sometimes develop in the third and fourth toes as well.

Excessive pressure and stress on the ball of the foot near the base of the toes can inflame and damage the joint capsule. This can make walking or bearing weight extremely painful, especially when barefoot. You might also feel like you’re standing on a pebble or marble, even when there isn’t anything there.

Capsulitis symptoms can be very similar to Morton’s neuroma, which also tends to feel like standing on a pebble. However, with capsulitis you’ll tend to feel the discomfort directly under the base of the toe, whereas neuromas develop in the spaces between the toes.

As mentioned above, it is critical to identify and treat a possible case of capsulitis as quickly as possible to prevent it from progressing into the “crossover toe” stage, which is more painful and more difficult to treat.


Top 8 Ways to Care for Capsulitis

Early treatment intervention for capsulitis will focus on two primary goals: one, reducing the severity of your symptoms, and two, slowing the rate of progression.

No. 1: REST

The simplest and oldest strategy is still one of the best, at least when it comes to dealing with short-term spikes in pain. If you’re feeling the pain, don’t try to push through it. Take a break from high-impact sports and other activities for a few days to a few weeks and give your ligaments a chance to heal.

No. 2: ICE

Cold therapy is also a great solution to deal with the pain and inflammation caused by capsulitis. Use an ice pack on the painful spot for up to 20 minutes at a time, with at least a 40-minute break between applications. Remember: don’t apply ice directly to your skin, but always wrap in a thin towel first.


An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may be appropriate to help deal with painful symptoms. Remember to only use such medications as directed on the label, or according to your doctor’s recommendations.


If the joint capsule has become weakened and prone to dislocating or drifting out of position, buddy taping or splinting the toe so that it lies flat in the correct position can ease discomfort and partially protect the capsule from further damage. We would be happy to show you how to tape your toe correctly at your appointment.


In many cases, specialized stretching routines can help not only reduce tension and stress on the joint capsule, but strengthen the surrounding and supporting muscles and tendons to help resist further injury. Your physical therapy routine may even include calf stretches, as tight calf muscles can often be partially responsible for biomechanical problems that contribute to capsulitis.


Choosing the right pair of shoes can be critically important if you have capsulitis. Avoid high heels and ballet flats, both of which can put excess pressure on the balls of the feet. 

Instead, make sure your shoes are supportive and have plenty of cushioning for the front of your feet. You also want to make sure you’ve got plenty of “wiggle room” for the toes, including about half an inch of space between the longest toe and the front of the shoe. Finally, opt for shoes with thick, rigid soles that don’t have too much flex in the toe region.


Sometimes, simply switching to a new pair of shoes might not be enough—particularly if you have an unusual or inefficient foot structure that puts extra pressure on the ball of the foot. (This is commonly the case for people who develop capsulitis.) After evaluating your foot structure, we can help you determine whether a pair of over-the-counter inserts or custom orthotics would be of any benefit to you—and if so, which ones you should get.


Last up, the outcome that nobody truly wants—surgery. While we will do everything we can to keep you from needing a more aggressive treatment approach, sometimes surgery is the only way to permanently relieve the pain and realign your toe.

Don’t Let Capsulitis Keep You Down

Whether your capsulitis is still in the early stages or it’s already started to cross over the big toe, it’s never too early (or too late) to seek our help. In many cases, a little bit of care can go a long way—and the sooner you start, the better.

Call either of our two offices or complete the contact form on this page to request your appointment with Family Foot Care & Surgery today.