Stiff Big Toe

Have you ever tried to open a door that was rusted shut? The corrosion locks up the hinges, making movement very difficult. Problems like hallux limitus and hallux rigidus are like rust in the ball of the foot. The result is a painful, stiff big toe that restricts your mobility.

When Toes “Stick”

Hallux limitus is arthritis in the first joint of the big toe that slowly stiffens and limits the digit. Smooth cartilage normally allows your toe to glide up and down easily so you can push off the ground when you walk. Arthritis damages the tissues that line the inside of the joint, breaking down this protective barrier. This allows the ends of the metatarsal and toe bones to grind together. Over time, the friction in the toe worsens, stiffening the digit. Its range of motion becomes limited and it causes pain.

If the arthritis continues to deteriorate the joint tissues, the hallux limitus progresses to hallux rigidus. Your range of motion is sharply reduced, making it much harder for you to walk normally. The frequent friction may create bone spurs. This end-stage arthritis can be debilitating, so it’s much better to take care of your lower limbs before they reach this point.

The Damage of Friction

Discomfort from a stiff big toe progresses as the condition worsens. Hallux limitus tends to begin with mild pain when bending the big toe or pushing off the ground. You may have a “grinding” sensation in the digit, particularly when walking. The ball of the foot make swell and appear red. Shoes without good support will most likely make the discomfort worse. Cold and damp weather may increase the pain in your toe as well.

As the condition progresses to hallux rigidus, the symptoms will worsen. Your foot may ache consistently, even when you’re not putting pressure on it. Hard bone spurs on the top or side of the joint can make it painful to wear normal shoes. The stiffness may reach a point where bending the digit is nearly impossible, too. Severe arthritis could even cause limping.

Reliving the Pain

The longer the condition progresses, the harder it is to treat, so don’t wait until you have an immovably stiff big toe to seek help. Let Dr. Gerald Mauriello help you manage your condition early. We’ll use tests to check your joint’s range of motion as well as diagnostic images to identify the arthritic changes. When we understand the extent of the problem, we’ll help you begin treatment to slow down the damage and retain your mobility.

There is no “cure” for arthritis, but we can help you manage the condition so it doesn’t progress much, if at all. You’ll need to limit the pressure on your forefoot, so your digit experiences less friction. Changing your shoes to better support your feet may help, particularly if they have stiff or rocker-bottom soles. This helps limit the motion in your toe when you take a step. Custom orthotic devices can help adjust the pressure on your forefoot, too, as well as stabilize your big toe. Physical therapy stretches can help you gently maintain your range of motion without straining the digit. When your foot is aching, ice the painful area to help decrease the irritation and swelling. We may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications.

The worse the condition becomes, however, the more likely you will need surgery to deal with the discomfort. An invasive procedure can remove the damaged tissues, excise a bone spur, replace the joint, or fuse the bones to eliminate the pain. Whichever procedure works best for you will depend on your individual needs and activities.

If you’re struggling with pain from a stiff big toe, you may have hallux limitus—or worse, hallux rigidus. You don’t have to suffer with an aching forefoot, though. In fact, the sooner you deal with the problem, the more easily we’ll be able to help you. Don’t wait and hope it will improve on its own.