Stiff Big Toe (Hallux Rigidus) | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Stiff Big Toe (Hallux Rigidus)

Overview and Facts about Stiff Big Toe (Hallux Rigidus)

Hallux rigidus is an orthopaedic condition and degenerative joint disorder of the foot commonly called “turf toe” among athletes. It is characterized by stiffness in the distal metatarsophalangeal joint located at the base of the big toe. Hallux rigidus, a form of degenerative arthritis, most often occurs in adults between the ages of 30 and 60 years. Physical characteristics of hallux rigidus make the condition distinct from other common foot joint disorders, which include bunions (hallux valgus) and gout.

Signs and Symptoms of Stiff Big Toe (Hallux Rigidus)

Persistent pain within the big toe during walking or physical activity involving the foot is a hallmark sign and symptom of hallux rigidus.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Loss of flexibility and function in the big toe
  • Swelling around the joint within the big toe
  • A bone spur, characterized by a bump or hard tissue structure, on top of the area

Causes and Risk Factors of Stiff Big Toe (Hallux Rigidus)

Hallux rigidus is caused by wear and tear or injury to the articular cartilage within the distal metatarsophalangeal joint of the big toe. This wear and tear leads to the growth of a bone spur above the big toe.

Individuals with hallux rigidus tend to have a family history of the condition. Lifestyle and choices in footwear also influence the risk of developing hallux rigidus. For instance, athletes who overuse, place consistent pressure on or injure the joint of the big toe increase their risk of developing hallux rigidus. Arthritis, gout, and aging also increase the risk of developing hallux rigidus.

Tests and Diagnosis of Stiff Big Toe (Hallux Rigidus)

A physical examination and X-ray imaging are instrumental in determining the presence of a bone spur. During a physical, the mobility and range of motion of the big toe are examined to identify signs of stiffness. CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds may be used to identify and measure the extent of cartilage damage to the joint.

Treatment and Care for Stiff Big Toe (Hallux Rigidus)

Cold compress therapy and medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroid injections can reduce pain associated with hallux rigidus. In some cases, surgery (cheilectomy, arthroplasty, or arthrodesis) is necessary to repair severe cartilage damage within the joint or to replace the damaged joints.