This is Patient Education Article – Hallux Rigidus. It explains the basics of the pathology including signs, symptoms and basic treatment options.
Each day, with every step you take, your big toe bears a tremendous amount of stress—a force equal to about twice your body weight. Most of us don’t realize how much we use our big toe. We tend to take it for granted, unless a problem develops. Hallux rigidus, a condition where movement of the toe is restricted to varying degrees. This disorder can be very troubling and even disabling
What is Hallux Rigidus?
Hallux rigidus is a disorder of the joint located at the base of the big toe. It causes pain and stiffness in the big toe, and with time it gets increasingly harder to bend the toe. Hallux rigidus is a form of degenerative arthritis (a wearing out of the cartilage within the joint that occurs in the foot and other parts of the body).
Because hallux rigidus is a progressive condition, the toe’s motion decreases as time goes on. In its earlier stage, motion of the big toe is only somewhat limited. But as the problem advances, the toe’s range of motion gradually decreases until it potentially reaches the end stage of “rigidus”— where the big toe becomes stiff, or what is sometimes called a “frozen joint.”
Early signs and symptoms include:
- Pain and stiffness in the big toe during use (walking, standing, bending, etc.)
- Pain and stiffness aggravated by cold, damp weather
- Difficulty with certain activities (running, squatting)
- Swelling and inflammation around the joint
As the disorder gets more serious, additional symptoms may develop, including:
- Pain, even during rest
- Difficulty wearing shoes because bone spurs (overgrowths) develop. Wearing high-heeled shoes can be particularly difficult.
- Dull pain in the hip, knee, or lower back due to changes in the way you walk
- Limping, in severe cases
The sooner this condition is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. Therefore, the best time to see a foot and ankle surgeon is when you first notice that your big toe feels stiff or hurts when you walk, stand, bend over, or squat. If you wait until bone spurs develop, your condition is likely to be more difficult to manage.
In diagnosing hallux rigidus, Dr. DeMill will examine your feet and manipulate the toe to determine its range of motion. X-rays are usually required to determine how much arthritis is present as well as to evaluate any bone spurs or other abnormalities that may have formed.
If your condition is caught early enough, it is more likely to respond to less aggressive treatment. If fact, in many cases, early treatment may prevent or postpone the need for surgery in the future.
Treatment for mild or moderate cases of hallux rigidus may include one or more of these strategies:
Shoe modifications. Shoes that have a large toe box should be worn, because they put less pressure on your toe. Stiff or rocker- bottom soles may also be recommended. Most likely, you’ll have to stop wearing high heels.
- Orthotic devices. Custom orthotic devices may improve the function of your foot.
- Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or supplements such as glucosamine-
- chondroitin sulfate may be helpful.
- Injection therapy. Injections of corticosteroids in small amounts are sometimes given in the affected toe to help reduce
- the inflammation and pain.
- Physical therapy. Ultrasound therapy or other physical therapy modalities may be undertaken to provide temporary relief.
In some cases, surgery is the only way to eliminate or reduce pain:
- Some procedures reconstruct and “clean up” the joint. Dr. DeMill removes the arthritic damage from the joint as well as any accompanying bone spurs. Sometimes a tissue spacer is placed in the joint to reduce pain. These procedures are designed to preserve and restore normal alignment and function of the joint as well as reduce or eliminate pain.
- More aggressive procedures are used when the joint cannot be preserved. These may involve fusing the joint, or removing part of the joint and, replacing it with an implant, such as is done for the hip or knee. These procedures eliminate painful motion in the joint and provide a stable foot.
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