Hallux Rigidus: The Effects Of A Stiff Big Toe


by Matthew H. Paden, DPM

Your big toe is one of those “oft used, yet vastly underappreciated” parts of your body. It plays a vital role in walking, going up stairs, and even providing the balance you need to stand. Just like a tireless workhorse, it simply goes to work for you every day without asking for much in return. Consequentially, the onset of hallux rigidus, and the resulting stiff big toe, can turn into quite an ordeal, unless you visit the experts at Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center and receive the first-class treatment you need.

Hallux Rigidus

This degenerative disorder affects the joint at the base of the big toe, right where it connects to your foot. It causes rigidity (thus the term “rigidus”) in the big toe (the “hallux”). That particular joint is known as the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint and it bends every time you step. For this reason, walking becomes painful when you develop a stiff big toe that does not have the flexibility it used to. In addition to pain and stiffness, other symptoms you might experience include swelling around the MTP joint and the formation of a bump on the top of your foot.

Diagnosing the Problem

If you think that you may have this ailment, make an appointment with Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center right away. We will diagnosis your condition and begin a treatment regimen. If we are catching hallux rigidus early on, it is easier to treat than if you have been living with the problem for some time, at which point surgery becomes the best option.

As we look to determine the nature of your situation, x-rays will likely be required to show if bone spurs have developed, where they exist, and their respective sizes. They will also allow us to see what kind of breakdown there is with regard to the cartilage and how it affects spacing in the joint.

Treatment Options

There are conservative, nonsurgical treatment methods available for this condition, but they are centered more on pain management and living with the ailment than on actually taking care of the problem. Pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medication, icing, and orthotic devices can help to manage the pain and decrease discomfort, but they will not reverse hallux rigidus.

The best way to receive true pain relief and increase your mobility is surgery. There are various surgical procedures that can be performed, depending on your particular situation. These operations include:

  • Cheilectomy, which may be helpful for mild to moderate cases. This procedure entails the removal of bone spurs and potentially part of the foot bone in order to provide more room for the toe to bend. Your toe may be swollen for several months following the procedure. Cheilectomy doesn’t typically provide permanent relief, however, as the bone spurring invariably recurs. It may be a short term solution for certain patients, but it’s rarely the procedure of choice

  • Arthrodesis might be recommended when cartilage damage is severe. The surgery involves fusing bones together, which means that bending the toe is no longer possible, but it is a reliable way to reduce pain in severe cases of hallux rigidus.

  • Arthroplasty is a joint replacement surgery. This procedure is best for older patients who do not have the functional demands of younger, more active individuals. In this surgery, joint surfaces are removed and replaced with an artificial joint.

Expert Surgical Care and Treatment

Whether you need surgical care or conservative treatment to manage the pain that comes with a stiff big toe, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center has the experts you need and convenient locations in Wheat Ridge, Golden, Evergreen, and Granby. Schedule an appointment for any of our offices today by calling (303) 423-2520 or using our online form.

Photo Credit: byrev via Pixabay.com

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