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Stiff Big Toe—Hallux Rigidus

  • Dr. Bruce Zappan
  • August 24, 2017

A degenerative arthritic condition called hallux rigidus—or stiff big toe—can cause the large toe joint to become painfully inflamed and stiff causing considerable pain, discomfort, and difficulty with simple standing in one place. This is due to the fact that, whether you are conscious of it or not, the big toes actually work hard all day long whether it be for climbing stairs, walking, running and stooping. When the big toes become painful, it can be very difficult to perform everyday activities without considerable pain.

While hallux rigidus may be mistaken for a bunion, it is actually caused by osteoarthritis which is caused by the wear and tear on the joints and overuse.

Some of the symptoms and conditions that contribute to a big toe becoming stiff include the following:

  • Foot abnormalities—such as flat feet and pronation can contribute to big toe stiffness.
  • Gout—Repeated bouts of gout can damage the big toe joint.
  • Bone spurs—Untreated stiffness of the big toe joint can lead to bone spurs developing on the top of the toe bones making bending even more difficult.
  • Pain causes gait abnormalities—Over pronation and change in walking style due to pain can cause the spine to be misaligned creating problems with the knees, back, and hips.

Treatment for hallux rigidus can involve the use of custom orthotics to help distribute weight and pressure to relieve pain and discomfort. Physical therapy exercises, cortisone injections, and anti-inflammatory medications can help improve function. Severe cases may require surgery to help eliminate continued pain and swelling.

Since a rigid big toe caused by osteoarthritis does not typically heal on it’s own, it is important to see a qualified podiatrist for the correct care and to prevent the condition from getting worse. For any problems you may be experiencing with your feet and ankles, Bruce B. Zappan, D.P.M., P.C., of Medical Arts Podiatry Associates in Philadelphia, is an expert in proper evaluation and recommendations for treatment. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or make an appointment with our office at 215-563-2560.