Hallux rigidus (stiff big toe) is a common problem of your large toe. It's a type of osteoarthritis you get when your joint cartilage wears out. A lot of pressure is placed on your big toes while you walk. The force that affects this smaller joint with each step you take is equivalent to approximately twice the weight of your body.

Symptoms of Hallux Rigidus

The symptoms you experience with this condition can vary in relation to pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility. In some cases, mobility is restricted which is known as hallux limitus as opposed to lost.

Some symptoms of this condition you might experience include:

  • Stiffness and pain while you move.
  • Problems with running and other activities.
  • Joint inflammation and swelling.
  • Damp and cold weather worsens your symptoms.

If you are at a more progressive stage of the condition, your symptoms could include:

  • Pain while you rest.
  • Pain in lower back, hips, and knees.
  • The top of your joint can develop osteophyte (bony bumps) which rubs on your shoes.
  • To avoid pain in your big toe, you favor the outer side of your foot which produces pain.

When you lose all movement of your big toe, it's referred to as a 'frozen joint'. When you get to this point of hallux rigidus, you can develop other related problems in your foot. You can get this condition early in life, even as a teenager. But, in many cases, the condition doesn’t progress at this age.

Causes of Hallux Rigidus

This ailment can come on suddenly with no apparent cause or there could be combined factors that cause you to develop this condition.

If you have structural deformities like flat feet, exaggerated pronation (rolling in) of your ankles or fallen arches, the stress that is placed on the joints of your big toes leaves you more susceptible to this ailment. If you have a family history of hallux rigidus, it is likely you might develop problems with the joint of your big toe. Things like infection, injury, or inflammation can also trigger this condition. People who have to stoop or squat frequently for their jobs are also prone to a stiff big toe.

Diagnosis of Hallux Rigidus

In the early stages of this condition, it's easier to treat. So, it will benefit you to set up an appointment with a foot and ankle surgeon if you experience stiffness or pain while bending, walking or standing. In the more advanced stages and you begin to develop bone spurs; however, it can be more difficult to treat. Your surgeon will give you a complete examination and determine the range of movement you have. In order to evaluate any abnormalities and the severity of your arthritis, x-rays may be needed as well.

Treatment Options for Hallux Rigidus

There are various treatment options for this condition which include:

  • Non-surgical treatment
  • Shoe Modifications
  • Custom-made orthotics
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Corticosteroids
  • Surgical treatment

Surgical Treatment Options

If your pain is not reduced or eliminated with more conservative treatments, your Pensacola orthopedic surgeon might recommend surgery. There are various types of surgery that can help including:

  • Cheilectomy
  • Reshaping of the proximal phalanx
  • Fusion
  • Joint replacement

Your best chances of successful treatment are by getting an early diagnosis. Therefore, set up an appointment with your Pensacola foot and ankle surgeon at the first sign of any symptoms. If you allow the condition to go untreated, it can worsen your symptoms and your hallux rigidus. The procedures performed will determine your length of recovery time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can Hallux Rigidus cause other problems?

If you have Hallux Rigidus, in some cases, you may also develop bone spurs or bunions at the joint, causing you additional pain. If you walk on the outer edges of your feet to keep yourself from putting pressure on your toe, this can cause other problems with your joint and foot. If left untreated, Hallux Rigidus can advance to the where your joint becomes entirely frozen.

Q: What is the difference between Hallux Rigidus and Limitus?

Hallux limitus is where your big toe joint loses motion. Hallux limitus affects the structure of your big toe's metatarsophalangeal joints (MTP) joint. Your first metatarsophalangeal joint is the area where your first metatarsal bone and big toe connect.

Hallux rigidus is hallux limitus end stage, according to most podiatrists. It's where your big toe is seriously lost or restricted hindering its motion. This condition could cause your first MTP joint to suffer long-term damage. It may also cause joint cartilage erosion and degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis. Hallux rigidus is associated with near-ankylosis. This is where partial bone fusion makes your big toe immobile and stiff.

Q: Can Hallux Rigidus be cured?

Consult a podiatric doctor if you think you have a bunion so they can see for sure. Don't attempt to self-treat your bunion, regardless if you're using conservative methods. You could avoid the need for additional intervention with shoes that properly fit, good foot care and orthoses if you catch the condition early.

If your hallux rigidus progresses to the point where your doctor can't prevent further damage by realigning your joint, they may suggest surgery. You might need a simple bunionectomy procedure where the orthopedic surgeon removes the bony protrusion or you might need to have a more complex procedure where the surgeon cuts the bone and realigns your joint. This all depends on how severe your condition is.

Q: What shoes should I wear If I have Hallux Rigidus?

Certain shoes made specifically for reducing how much your toe bends when you walk. For instance, shoes with a rocker-type sole absorb some of the bending. You can also combine these with a sole brace to help limit the sole of the shoe flexibility and reducing MTP joint motion.

Q: Are there any types of inserts that can be worn to help reduce pain/symptoms of Hallux Rigidus?

You can address and fix over-pronation with orthotic arch support insoles. You'll find many brands at reasonable prices. Ideally, get a style that provides you with arch support cushioning and a metatarsal pad. Both support the area behind your toes.