Your Stiff Big Toe: Hallux Limitus and Rigidus

Imagine trying to open a door, but it gets stuck halfway. You continue trying to push the door open, but the hinges grind against each other and the door moves slowly and stiffly, if it opens at all. That entryway will not be quite as helpful as a fully-functioning, non-sticking door. Your foot can suffer a similar problem and limitation when you have a stiff big toe. Arthritic conditions like hallux limitus and hallux rigidus significantly reduce your joint movement—and thus, your mobility overall.

The Arthritis Effect in Your Big Toe

You develop a stiff big toe from arthritis in the first joint, where your toe meets your first metatarsal. Years of wear and tear, especially if you had any faulty biomechanics, grind down the joint tissues. This allows the hard bones to rub against each other, creating a painful friction. This type of osteoarthritis is called hallux limitus. “Hallux” is the medical term for the big toe, while “limitus” refers to the joint’s limited motion. The stiffness and discomfort develop slowly over time as the protective soft tissues in your joint deteriorate.

Your toe grows increasingly painful, particularly when you put weight on the affected foot or try to use the toe to push off the ground. You’ll find your digit has a limited range of motion and may ache more in the cold. Footwear that doesn’t support and cushion the foot, or that puts too much pressure on the big toe, may aggravate the condition as well.

As the arthritis worsens, it deteriorates into hallux rigidus. This more advanced condition significantly stiffens the big toe. You may find your foot hurting on its own, even when you’re resting. Sometimes a bone spur grows out of the joint in response to the friction between the bones. The spur creates a hard bump on the top or side of the foot, which may further restrict movement and make some shoes difficult to wear.

Relieving Your Joint Pain

Conservative therapies aim to slow the problem and retain as much range of motion as possible in the joint. Dr. Victoria Melhuish will examine your foot to determine the specific cause of your stiff big toe and rule out other possible toe conditions. Once our staff knows whether you have hallux limitus or hallux rigidus, we can formulate a treatment approach tailored to your unique needs.

You’ll need to reduce the inflammation around your big toe to reduce the discomfort and prevent unnecessary friction to keep the arthritis from getting worse. Icing the foot when it’s painful may help decrease symptoms. We may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications. To avoid damaging friction in the toe, you’ll need to reduce the joint motion. This will mean avoiding activities that require you to put a lot of weight on the forefoot. Wearing stiff-sole or rocker-bottom shoes that don’t cause significant movement at the ball of the foot may help.

If your arthritis continues to progress painfully, you may need surgery to address the damage. A procedure can excise any bone spurs and clear away ruined tissues, allowing your toe to bend more freely and with less pain. Sometimes replacing bone around the joint with soft tissue can help you maintain your range of motion. If the condition is severe, though, you may need to have the joint fused.

A stiff big toe is a pain in many ways. Not only does arthritis hurt, but it restricts your mobility and independence. Taking care of hallux limitus before it becomes hallux rigidus is important for keeping your feet functioning well. Let our team at Sierra Foot & Ankle in Carson City, Nevada help. Use our website to contact us, or give us a call at (775) 783-8037 to make an appointment.