Hallux Limitus & Hallux Rigidus: Treatment and Causes

Both hallux limitus and hallux rigidus are disorders affecting the big toe. Patients may experience difficulty walking, stooping, climbing, and standing.

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What Is Hallux Rigidus?

Hallux rigidus is a type of arthritis that occurs at the joint where the big toe attaches to the rest of your foot. As with most diseases, the name is taken from Latin. Hallux means big toe while rigidus means rigid (just as it sounds), indicating that the toe cannot move.
As with all forms of arthritis, hallux rigidus is a progressive disease, meaning that it gets worse over time. In the early stages, the condition is called hallux limitus. This refers to limited motion of the big toe. As the condition progresses, range of motion becomes more and more limited.
Because hallux rigidus affects the joint of the big toe, patients often mistake it for a bunion. Please see our bunions treatment page to learn more about how these conditions differ.

Hallux Rigidus bone structure

Symptoms of Hallux Rigidus & Hallux Limitus

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In the early stages, where motion is simply limited, the main symptoms are pain and stiffness in the big toe. Typically, you feel these while the foot is in use, such as when walking or standing. You may also find it’s more difficult to perform certain activities, such as squatting, running, or climbing.
Swelling and inflammation around the joint of the big toe are also common in the early stages of hallux limitus. Symptoms, particularly pain and stiffness, are often worse when weather is cold or damp.
As the condition progresses, you may develop additional symptoms, including:

  • Bone spurs, making it difficult to wear shoes
  • Changes in the way you walk that may lead to pain in the knee, hip, or lower back
  • Pain in the affected toe even when resting

If your condition is severe, you may also develop a limp.

What Causes Hallux Rigidus?

Hallux rigidus has numerous potential causes. These include:

  • Acute injury, such as stubbing your toe
  • Genetic conditions may lead people to inheriting a foot type that makes them more likely to develop the condition
  • Inflammatory disease, including gout and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Overuse of the big toe, such as jobs requiring regular stooping or squatting
  • Structural abnormalities that impact toe and foot functions, such as fallen arches and excessive pronation
    Cause helps determine the best method for treating your condition.
Dr Weintrub examining patient for Hallux Rigidus

Diagnosing & Treating Hallux Rigidus and Hallux Limitus

Hallux Rigidus & Hallux Limitus

Early diagnosis makes treating any condition easier. Schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms.

To diagnose the condition, Dr. Jarman examines your foot. This includes moving the big toe to determine range of motion. If he suspects hallux rigidus or hallux limitus, he may also order x-rays. This helps determine progression of the condition as well as secondary issues that may have developed, such as bone spurs.

Nonsurgical treatment options for hallux rigidus include:

  • Corticosteroid injections may help reduce pain and inflammation
  • Medications, such as ibuprofen and other NSAIDs, to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Orthotic devices to help improve foot function
  • Shoe modifications, such as a bigger toe box or rocker-bottom soles, often help remove pressure

Surgery may be the only option to treat the patient’s pain. Before ordering surgery, your podiatrist looks at the extent of deterioration. Other deciding factors include x-rays, age, and activity levels.

Schedule an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Jarman or Dr. Weintrub, call (480) 497-3946 today. You may also schedule an appointment via our Zodoc page.