Now that the cold days of winter have finally caught up with us, you notice that your big toe is achy and stiff. It’s particularly noticeable when you are on your feet or bending or squatting down to put something away. The joint at the base of the big toe seems swollen and inflamed. At first, the pain would subside when you would sit down and get off your feet for a while, but now it seems to be more constant. If this scenario describes your symptoms, you may be experiencing hallux limitus.

Causes of Hallux Limitus

Hallux limitus is actually a form of osteoarthritis—the degenerative, “wear and tear” form of the disease. Faulty foot mechanics are most often to blame as the reason the arthritis affects the big toe. People who have fallen arches or the tendency to roll their ankles inward when they walk are more likely to develop this disorder. Hallux limitus can also be brought about by an inflammatory disease such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis. An injury, such as severely stubbing your toe, can also be the starting point for hallux limitus. Jobs that require a person to do a lot of bending and squatting can lead to overuse of the big toe joint and cause or worsen the condition.

How to Get Relief

Hallux limitus is a progressive disease. Left untreated, the joint will get stiffer and stiffer until you are no longer able to straighten the toe. At this point, the condition becomes hallux rigidus and usually the only course of action at that point is surgery. At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care, our board certified foot and ankle surgeon, Dr. Elliott M. Perel, will start by asking questions about your symptoms and doing a complete examination of your toe and foot. Several other disorders, including gout, turf toe and bunions can have similar symptoms and need to be ruled out. X-rays will most likely be ordered to gain a clearer picture of the toe and can show how much arthritis is present.

With a confirmed diagnosis, treatment can begin. The foot doctor may prescribe oral anti-inflammatory medications and/or corticosteroid injections to relieve pain and inflammation. Modifications to footwear and the addition of custom orthotics may take pressure off the toe. Physical therapy may also help.

The sooner treatment begins, the more likely that you’ll be able to avoid or at least delay the need for surgery. If you are having pain and stiffness in your big toe, contact either our Metuchen or Jamesburg office and make an appointment today.