Our bodies are pretty complex systems, and it’s amazing how just one problem with a particular part can throw off the rest of it in a New York minute. One example of this is your big toe. All of our toes help make walking, running, and staying upright easier. They balance out our bodies to keep us from falling down. They also help propel us forward as we move. Still, it can be argued that the most important toe is the big one. Did you know that our big toes are the only ones to have a distinguishing name? And when your foot hits the ground, whether walking or running, it assists your arch by straightening out your tissue. Without that nudge, your footing wouldn’t be as firm (aka sturdy). Although it is possible to function without one, our big toes have an understandable reputation for being the leader of our feet.
With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why a damaged big toe can be detrimental. When patients that I see in my office visit with complaints about their big toe, the first thing I look for is hallux rigidus. This condition, sometimes known as simply “stiff big toe,” is a type of degenerative arthritis affecting the bottom of the toe joint. It can be diagnosed through a series of tests, including an evaluation of its range of movement and imaging. A consultation will also include a discussion of your family history and habits, as hallux rigidus may occur as a result of structural abnormalities, heredity, traumatic injury, or underlying disease conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
If you’re suffering from this painful and hindering condition, you’ll likely want to remedy it as quickly as possible. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to treat toe injuries, including hallux rigidus. First and foremost, you can avoid activities that cause pain, such as running and sports. If that’s not a reasonable option, wearing shoes with a rocker sole or orthotics with firm extension under the big toe joint can make a significant difference.
Surgery is also a common option, and advances in procedures can help reduce healing and recovery time while also minimizing scarring. A basic surgery consists of removing the troublesome bone spurs. Sometimes this might require also cutting the toe bone to increase motion. Other procedures include a capsular arthroplasty, where we implant your own tissue in the joint. In some situations, a joint fusion is the most practical choice.
In any of these cases, we will work hard to maintain as much of your original muscle and joint as possible. That can keep you on your feet more easily and with mobility and function similar to what you had in the past.
It’s true that your big toe is a big deal, so if you have any concerns about yours, don’t delay getting assistance. With today’s advances in technology, you might be pleasantly surprised at your options.