When you hear the word “arthritis,” your first thoughts may be of knees and hips, but this disease often strikes your smaller joints first, like those by your toes. This only makes sense, because your feet bear the brunt of your weight whenever you take a step. Arthritis often occurs in the big toe as hallux rigidus—a stiff big toe—and can make walking very painful.
The Problem with Your MTP Joint
The condition occurs when arthritis attacks the cartilage in the joint where your big toe bone (phalange) and the bone in your foot (metatarsal) meet. This area is called the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. With less cartilage, the ends of the bones rub together with every step you take. Repeated friction can result in a bone spur forming on the top of the joint. A spur will not allow the toe to bend up as it should when you walk, making your toe stiff and painful. The pain may not go away when you stop walking, either. Further damage is caused by wear and tear on the joint over time, or from a past trauma such as a sprain or other injury.
How do you know if you have hallux rigidus? Some symptoms might include: (1.) Pain at the base of your big toe with activity, especially the pushing-off phase of each stride; (2.) Swollen joints; (3.) A bump that forms on top of the joint; and (4.) Inability to bend your toe up or down.
Diagnosing Hallux Rigidus
If you have pain in your MTP joint, you should have it checked at the Palmer Foot Clinic right away. This condition, like many others in your feet, will only get worse if you do nothing. Catching it early, before a bone spur begins to develop, is your best chance of avoiding serious pain and stiffness in your toe.
Once we have determined what is causing your toe pain, we can help you decide on the best course of treatment. We will manipulate your toe to see if its range of motion is compromised, and may use imaging tests like X-rays from your family DR. to discover the extent of cartilage damage or the size of any spur that has developed.
Help for a Stiff, Painful Big Toe
As always, we will try non-invasive treatments first. This may include anti-inflammatory medication or Cryoderm Cold topical pain gel for the pain. We can show you how to use icing or contrast baths of hot and cold water to help with the inflammation and swelling. We may also recommend stiff-soled shoes or rocker-soled shoes to better support your feet during motion. If more extensive support is needed, we can fabricate custom foot orthotics that fit and support your particular foot structure. Many times these conservative treatments relieve your pain.
If none of these methods take away your pain, you may need to consider surgery to remove a spur, fuse the bone, or replace the joint. These are a last resort procedure if your hallux rigidus is severely painful or limits your activity.
Let Podiatrist Iain Palmer at the Palmer Foot Clinic in Winnipeg, MB help you find relief for your stiff big toe. Give us a call at (204) 697-0649 to set up an appointment or ask your questions. We want to guide you back to full activity without pain.