By: Dr. Vanatius Babila Tita

I remember telling a younger active patient that she had hallux rigidus, or “big toe arthritis” and her response was one I hear often when discussing arthritis:

“Isn’t that like something that happens when you are older?”

Well, the answer is “no.” Hallux rigidus, like most other arthritis, does not have a clear cause, but it has been attributed overuse, injuries, genetics, osteoarthritis, and even rheumatoid arthritis. Having hallux rigidus does not mean that you are at higher risk for developing other arthritis in other joints such as your hips or knees.

The symptoms of hallux rigidus include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and prominent bone spur formation. The condition is progressive and can get worst over time, leading to pain during walking, standing, or any activities that involve motion at the joint. It is generally accepted that hallux rigidus is the end stage of hallux limitus, which is the diagnosis for the mild to moderate condition of limited big toe joint motion. It is most common in middle age but can affect anyone, even teenagers!

It should be noted that bunions can contribute to hallux rigidus, however, they are not the same thing. Many people have bunions without hallux rigidus, or vice versa!

Hallux rigidus is diagnosed by testing your toe joint’s range of motion and the associated pain. The earlier you get a diagnosis of hallux rigidus, the more successful treatment can be. There are a variety of treatment options, which focus on limiting motion to that joint and decreasing the inflammation. Wearing stiff-soled shoes with plenty of toe space and avoiding activities that increase stress to the joint may provide pain relief. In addition, oral anti-inflammatory medications may provide relieve pain and reduce swelling. Some patients experience relief from corticosteroid injections directly into the joint as well. 

Surgery is usually considered when all other conservative treatments have failed. Hallux rigidus surgery involves procedures such as fusing the joint, shaving down bony prominences, cutting and realigning bone, as well as joint replacement. If surgery is recommended, your physician will review the risks and benefits of the procedure with you in great detail.

At Southwest Austin Foot & Ankle Clinic, our doctors are well trained to offer excellent considerations for both conservative and surgical options based on evaluation and previous treatments. We are committed to providing the right treatment to decrease your pain and inflammation so you can get back to living your active life.

If your big toe joint isn’t as flexible as it should be, contact our clinic at 512-447-4122 so you can be evaluated by one of our caring doctors right away!