Your big toe joint is one of the most important joints in your body due to the immense amount of stress it absorbs with each step. It is the main joint that allows you to “push off”, allowing your foot to be lifted off the ground. The big toe can tolerate a force that is twice your body weight, thus is a very important structure.

In order for the big toe joint to function properly, it needs to be in great condition with enough motion to occur. The condition Hallux Rigidus is a progressive condition that occurs when the movement of the toe is restricted, thus causing pain and stiffness at its base. In the earlier stages, the motion of the big toe is limited and symptoms can be mild. If left untreated, the condition can progress to become more severe. The toe’s range of motion decreases, resulting in more pain and stiffness.

Hallux Rigidus is a form of arthritis, where the cartilage within the joint wears away. If it becomes severe, conservative options may not be available and surgery becomes the only option.


Arthritis is a general term for “wear and tear.” The most common cause is a faulty function of the way we walk causing structural changes to the foot. This can lead to increase stresses to the big toe joint, resulting it to go beyond its normal use. The joint begins to adapt to these abnormal changes, and can cause its cartilage to wear down.

Other conditions such as bunions or fallen arches are common causes for the joint to adapt and develop arthritis. Other possible causes include improper shoe gear, overuse, joint injury, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory conditions.


  • Pain and stiffness in big toe during walking, standing, etc.
  • Pain and stiffness in cold or rainy weather
  • Difficult running or squatting
  • Swelling of joint
  • Calluses due to improper motion of big toe joint
  • Bone spur development
  • Difficulty wearing shoes, especially high heels


Because Hallux Rigidus is a progressive condition, it’s much easier to treat when symptoms first develop. An x-ray would be taken to assess severity of the condition while noting if bone spurs develop.

Conservative treatment options are most useful if the condition is caught early.

  • Orthotics with accommodative modifications
  • Wider shoes
  • Prescription medications such as anti-inflammatories
  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy.

If conservative treatment fails or the condition worsens to a more severe state, surgery would be indicated. These are usually categorized in 3 different groups:

  1. ”Clean up” procedures to remove abnormalities from the damaged joint
  2. Joint preserving procedures to realign and shift bones in order to restore normal function of the joint
  3. Joint destroying procedures with a fusion or implant to stabilize the joint without pain

Based on your activity level, clinical symptoms, and x-ray findings, your doctor would be able to discuss with you the best type of surgery to accommodate your lifestyle.

If you are exhibiting early indication of pain or discomfort, visit your podiatrist at Premier Foot & Ankle for care!

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