The big toe (also known as the great toe) allows us to push off the ground as we walk. Unfortunately, this constant activity frequently leads to painful arthritis in the big toe. Pain and stiffness in the big toe are commonly referred to as a stiff big toe, but the medical term is Hallux Rigidus.
Most people won’t develop a stiff big toe until they are in their 30s, though it can occur at any age. When its not caused by wear and tear, Hallux Rigidus often develops following an injury that causes cartilage damage in the toe. However, a stiff big toe may also result from biomechanical problems in the foot that place excessive stress on the joint.
Because a stiff big toe is caused by arthritis, many of the same treatments used to treat arthritis in other areas of the body are prescribed first. These non-surgical treatments may include anti-inflammatory medications, footwear modifications, icing, or heat packs. Shoe inserts including arch supports may also help reduce stress on the joint.
Unfortunately, nonsurgical treatments fail to correct the underlying cause of the stiff toe. They merely mitigate the symptoms. If symptoms cannot be managed with conservative treatments, surgery may be required.
There are various surgical techniques that may be used to correct a stiff big toe. A procedure known as a cheilectomy removes bone spurs and helps to increase the joint space at the great toe joint. Arthrodesis (fusion surgery) may be indicated for severe cartilage damage. During this procedure, the damaged bone is removed, and the joint is fixed in place with plates or screws. An arthroplasty (joint implant) may also be recommended to completely replace the joint in the toe.
If you’re dealing with heel pain, it’s smart to be proactive and seek treatment. Early treatment can prevent manageable conditions from worsening or requiring surgery.
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