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Family Foot Care & Surgery, LLC

Hallux Rigidus: Joints Going Stiff

By definition, “stiff” means something doesn’t bend easily. It is rigid and difficult to move. This could be because it was made that way, like a stiff board, or because it has become that way, like a rusted hinge. Your body’s joints aren’t supposed to be stiff—they are supposed to bend smoothly and easily. Unfortunately, problems like hallux rigidus in your big toe can leave you struggling to walk normally.

From Smooth to Stiff Big Toes

Hallux rigidus literally means “stiff big toe.” It’s actually a form of arthritis that affects the joint where your first toe meets its metatarsal bone in the ball of the foot. This joint is crucial for your ability to walk. It has to be able to bend and straighten to help you push off the ground and move forward. If it is rigid, you lose that critical motion in your foot and impair your mobility.

The problem arises when something, usually faulty biomechanics, wears away the protective joint lining in the big toe. The bones end up rubbing together, grinding against each other and causing more damage and inflammation. Eventually the friction makes it harder and harder for your toe to bend. After a while it can make most activities extremely uncomfortable, or even impossible. In severe cases, you might develop a bone spur on the top or side of the joint.

Your Risk for Hallux Rigidus

Anyone can develop arthritis in their big toe that progressively stiffens it. Certain factors increase your risk for the problem, however. An injury to that joint makes it more likely to stiffen. So do biomechanical conditions like fallen arches that put abnormal pressure on the first toe. Certain jobs that require repeated or constant stooping or squatting, or athletic activities that overuse the joint, can contribute to wear and tear that lead to stiffening as well. Even other types of arthritis, like gout, can create hallux rigidus.

How to Manage a Stiff Big Toe

This is a progressive condition that won’t get better on its own. The only way to manage it is to get it properly diagnosed and treated early only. The longer you wait, the more likely that you’ll suffer permanent damage to your joint. Dr. Sanjay Patel will carefully check your foot for preexisting problems that may have contributed to your stiff big toe. Then our team can help you plan out treatment to manage pain and mobility.

The most important thing to do is to alleviate the inflammation and prevent the problem from getting worse. Ice the forefoot to decrease irritation and swelling. We may recommend medications to help and alleviate pain as well. Wear a shoe with a roomy toe box to keep your digit from getting cramped. You may need footwear styles with stiff or rocker-bottom soles that help your foot push off the ground without needing too much movement in the big toe. Orthotics can also help.

In some cases, you may need surgery to deal with the joint damage. Procedures can remove bone spurs and the damaged portions of joints. Some people benefit from installing a “spacer” of soft tissue to protect the bones. The most severe cases might require a fusion procedure.

The stiffer your big toe is, the harder it is to maintain your mobility. Hallux rigidus doesn’t mean giving up your active lifestyle or your favorite hobbies, though. With the right care, you can prevent the problem from getting worse, alleviate the discomfort, and stay mobile. Let Dr. Sanjay Patel and our team at Family Foot Care & Surgery, LLC help you manage your hallux rigidus. Use our website to request more information or an appointment. You can also call one of our Connecticut locations: (203) 288-4055 for our office in Hamden, or (203) 876-7736 for our office in Milford.

Dr. Sanjay V. Patel
Dr. Patel has over 20 years of experience in the field of podiatric medicine and podiatric surgery.