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Why Are My Toes Discolored?


Have you looked closely at your toes recently? While the winter chill means many feet are in socks more often than not, it is still important to check on your toes. Discoloration, swelling, and sore feet could be an indicator of a larger problem. Katherine Ward Buckley, DPM, a Board Certified podiatrist and foot surgeon at Crystal Run Healthcare, explains a few common reasons for toe discoloration.

  1. Improperly-sized shoes

One of the most common but overlooked causes is a shoe or sneaker that is slightly too small for your feet. Each toe contains two or three bones; if any of these bones rub against tight shoe gear, the skin will turn red or pink with inflammation and can also cause callouses to build on the tops of your toes. It is important to measure your feet yearly (more often for children), as feet grow and change slightly over the years.

  1. Poor circulation

Another common cause of discolored toes is poor circulation or peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Your arteries are responsible for bringing the blood from your heart to your toes. PAD causes ulcers or sores that do not heal and can give your skin a blue tinge from poor circulation. If you smoke or have diabetes, you have a higher chance of peripheral arterial disease. Eating healthy, avoiding smoking, and exercising daily helps improve your circulation. A healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet can help reduce plaque build-up in your arteries and prevent PAD. A podiatrist can determine if you have decreased pulses in your feet and an arterial Doppler test is usually ordered to further evaluate the circulation.

  1. Raynaud’s disease

In colder months it is common for people to have discolored toes from Raynaud’s disease. In this disease, the smaller arteries in the toes constrict, excessively limiting blood supply to the area. The constricted arteries lead to toes turning white, then blue from the lack of blood flow, and finally red when blood flow returns. The cold weather often exacerbates the symptoms of Raynaud’s disease. It is important to have this evaluated as painful sores may develop in some cases.

  1. COVID Toes

A relatively new cause of discolored toes is COVID-19. “COVID toes” are characterized by bright red coloration which gradually turns purple. It can affect one toe or all the toes.  These red lesions are another way the body responds to a viral infection. If you notice red lesions on your toes in addition to the common symptoms of the coronavirus, you should contact your healthcare provider to get tested for the infection.


There are many causes of discolored toes. It is important to see a podiatrist to have any abnormality evaluated sooner than later. The expert Podiatrists at Crystal Run offer a full suite of podiatry services, from diabetic foot management and wound care, to heel pain, fractures, and general trauma to the foot and ankle.  To learn more about Podiatry services or to schedule an appointment, visit

Katherine Ward Buckley, DPM, is a Board Certified Podiatrist and Foot Surgeon at Crystal Run Healthcare. She completed her Doctorate of Podiatric Medicine at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine in New York, NY. She completed her Residency in Podiatric Surgery at the Catholic Medical Center in Queens, New York. She then served in the United States Army at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Fort Hood Texas, caring for soldiers and their families. Her clinical interests include lower extremity manifestations of systemic disease, wound care, sports medicine, and geriatrics. Dr. Ward Buckley is currently seeing patients in West Nyack.