Understanding Hallux Rigidus | Stiffened Big Toe

Our feet are more articulated than most people think, and the joints which make up the skeleton of the foot are prone to being damaged and wearing down due to how often we put pressure on them. The metatarsophalangeal joint, or the joint between the big toe and the long bone connecting the toes and ankle, is one extremely important one as it is the joint used when you’re stepping off the ground as you walk.

When this joint begins to break down, the two ends of the bones rub together, causing pain. This causes hallux rigidus or stiffened big toe if left untreated, as motion in the joint gradually decreases and it is destroyed, while also creating painful bone spurs.

Hallux rigidus or a stiffened big toe is a sign of bone deterioration. | Family Podiatry Centre | Best Foot Doctor Podiatrist DPM Clinic Singapore Malaysia
Narrowing of the joint space of the big toe (compare with the other toes, which have space between the joints)

Symptoms of hallux rigidus include, of course, stiffness of the big toe and pain during walking which can worsen in cold temperatures, as well as difficulty walking. There may also be inflammation and swelling around the joint, and as the condition worsens, it may also cause knee, hip or lower back pain as the big toe stops providing adequate support for the rest of the body.

What causes Hallux Rigidus?

 Other factors which might cause hallux rigidus include irregular foot anatomy such as flat feet, overuse or prior trauma to the metatarsal.

Best Hallux Rigidus Treatment

Treatment for hallux rigidus will vary depending on the severity of the condition – however, surgery won’t be necessary in early stages. Instead, careful management of the condition through avoiding putting excessive pressure on the big toe will be enough. However, as the condition worsens with age and daily activity, it may become necessary to look at more permanent solutions.

Permanent treatments for hallux rigidus include:

  • Joint fusion surgery which we can refer you for through our clinic after a consultation
    • This treatment will still limit the range of movement for the big toe afterwards – it will never be able to return to the same level of flexibility, which may impair competitive running or intense activities like dancing.
  • A hydrogel implant, which is a relatively new treatment that would have a similar stability-restoring effect as a joint fusion surgery, but without sacrificing range of motion.

That said, even if you eventually choose to undergo surgery for hallux rigidus, in order to ensure that the condition doesn’t act up again or cause problems for the rest of your foot you will have to go through some lifestyle changes. These include choosing sensible footwear and possibly investing in orthotics to better support your feet. You may also have to go through physiotherapy to fully restore the function of your feet post-op. Don’t hesitate to book a consultation with a podiatrist to work all this out!

Written by Mark B. Reyneker
Written by Mark B. Reyneker

Based in Singapore, 20 years of clinical experience. Practiced in South Africa, Malaysia, and Singapore. Pioneered CAD/CAM custom-made orthotics in S.E Asia.

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