A Stiff Toe Makes it Hard to Walk

What is Hallux Rigidus?

Hallux rigidus is a disorder of the joint at the base of your big toe. “Rigidus” is indicative of the toe being stiff and rigid, unable to move. This condition is a form of degenerative arthritis and can be very painful and disabling. The joint surfaces tend to wear away and as the raw ends rub together, painful bone spurs can develop. This then prohibits the joint from bending the way it needs to. The big toe joint is the major weight bearing joint in the foot and we use it in most of the moving that we do. It helps us walk, stand, climb and stoop down.

Hallux rigidus is a progressive condition, meaning that it worsens over time. In the beginning stages, when the big toe still retains some movement, the condition is referred to as “hallux limitus.” The toe joint starts out having limited movement then progresses to being rigid and stiff. In the worst states, the toe joint can be completely frozen in place, causing significant pain even in the simplest of daily activities.

A bunion affects the same joint and is often confused with this particular condition. It is important to understand the difference, as each requires very specific treatment.


 What are the Symptoms of Hallux Rigidus?

  • A bump that develops on the top of the foot
  • Pain in the joint when you are active
  • Stiffness in the joint and an inability to bend it up or down
  • Swelling around the joint
  • Pain, even when resting
  • Difficulty wearing shoes
  • Pain in your knee, hip or lower back due to altering the way you walk


What Causes Hallux Rigidus?

It is most common for this condition to develop as a result of a faulty foot structure. Having a structural abnormality changes the way your foot and big toe are able to function. Having fallen arches (flatfeet) or excessive pronation, where your feet roll inwards can contribute to osteoarthritis. This “wear and tear” arthritis can put you at risk for developing hallux rigidus.

Having a job that puts consistent stress on your big toe such as having to squat or stoop down can increase your risk for this disorder. Trauma or injury to your toe, rheumatoid arthritis and gout are also risk factors for hallux rigidus.

How is Hallux Rigidus Treated?

Similar to many other foot conditions, early treatment can postpone or even prevent invasive treatment methods. Some of the conservative treatment methods that Dr. Danciger may use include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Padding on the enlarged part of the bone to protect foot in shoes
  • Shoe modifications
  • Custom orthotic inserts to take stress off the big toe joint
  • Laser treatments
  • Injection therapy to help reduce pain and inflammation

When it gets severe to where even the slightest amount of motion causes pain, surgery may be needed to correct the problem. You may need removal of bone spurs, joint fusion or joint replacement. Dr. Danciger will be able to select the surgical procedure appropriate for your condition and guide you through every step of the process.

The earlier you seek treatment for this condition, the better chance you have that conservative treatment methods will be effective. If you would like more information about this condition or need to schedule an appointment, please call Dr. Danciger today at (760) 568-0108. You can also request an appointment online.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle