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Big toe joint arthritis (otherwise known as Hallux Rigidus) is a form of degenerative arthritis. In this condition, surfaces of the joints in the big toe begin to wear away and extra bone can also develop in the form of bone spurs or osteophytes. This limits the movement of the joint. The big toe needs to bend significantly when stepping off. Consequently, arthritis in this joint can greatly affect walking, running etc.
Hallux Rigidus is a condition that tends to get worse over time. In it’s earlier stages, it may be referred to as Hallux Limitus, which is where there is limited movement of the big toe joint. With progression, Hallux Rigidus develops which can result in stiffness developing in the big toe joint and there may also be swelling.
To compensate for pain in the big toe joint, people with Hallux Rigidus tend to adjust their walking pattern which can also result in knee, hip or lower back pain. There is often difficulty finding shoes that fit properly shoes due to pain and/or inflammation in the joint. Early diagnosis can be made by physical examination and x-ray. Early treatment gives the best chance of avoiding surgery.
The big toe joint is designed to bear a considerable amount of stress during walking. However faulty biomechanics or structural abnormalities such as flat feet can stop the big toe from bending normally, and eventually lead to the development of osteoarthritis in the big toe joint. Other factors that can increase the risk of developing this condition include genetics (eg, having a certain foot type), injury to the big toe , other inflammatory diseases, and working in a job that places excessive stress on the big toe joint .
In cases of Hallux Rigidus, certain types of footwear and orthotics may be recommended to reduce pressure and motion on the big toe. Custom orthotics that conform very closely to the arch of the foot are most effective in improving big toe joint function. These orthotics may incorporate something like a 3mm kinetic wedge in combination with a built in forefoot posting to take the pressure off the big toe joint. Ice and anti-inflammatory medication can also be used to reduce inflammation and pain. If it does not respond to conservative treatment, surgery may be recommended as a last resort in more severe cases.