May is National Arthritis Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness of all facets of arthritis, including the symptoms, causes, who is affected, as well as ways to improve the quality of life for those who live with this painful condition.
Arthritis is not a single disease. In fact, it encompasses more than 100 different types of diseases affecting the joints. One such type is big toe joint arthritis, often referred to as hallux rigidus when the toe becomes stiff.
Dr. Stuart Katchis, NY-based orthopedic surgeon specializing in the foot and ankle, describes the causes and symptoms of osteoarthritis of the big toe joint and explains the things that put you at risk for developing it.
What is big toe joint arthritis?
The average American takes 5,000 or more steps each day. Steps that can be very painful if you suffer from hallux rigidus, or as it is commonly called, stiff toe. This condition is a form of osteoarthritis in the big toe, in a joint called the metatarsophalangeal joint (located at the base of the big toe). As cartilage breaks down around the ends of the bones in this joint, the bones rub against each other causing stiffness, pain and loss of movement. All of these symptoms create problems with normal walking because of the pain they produce. When you consider how the majority of your body weight is exerted on the big toe joint each time you push off the ground when you take a step, you get a sense of how much of an impact this small joint can have on your everyday movements.
How do you know if you have it?
Before considering any hallux rigidus treatment options, you must receive a proper diagnosis. You should seek evaluation from a foot & ankle physician if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Stiffness in your big toe and discomfort bending it during walking, squatting or running
- Difficulty moving your toe up and down when sitting still
- Swelling and inflammation around the joint
- A bump on top of the joint that may indicate the formation of a bone spur
Failing to get hallux rigidus treatment in its early stages may cause worsening symptoms, such as:
- An increase in pain with activity
- Developing a limp
- A growing discomfort when wearing shoes as they put pressure on the inflamed joint
- A decline in activity level due to the pain
What puts you at risk for developing big toe joint arthritis?
There are several factors that increase your likelihood of developing hallux rigidus, which can vary from your job to genetics, among other things. Knowing what these risk factors are will help you to better understand the condition and prompt you to seek proper treatment at the sign of early symptoms.
5 things that put you at risk for hallux rigidus are:
- Prior toe injuries – If you have had prior injuries involving the big toe, such as a broken big toe or repeated stubbing of the toe, you are at a higher risk for damaging the cartilage in the joint, eventually leading to this condition.
- Genetics – Your genetics can play a role in your foot anatomy, causing you to develop certain foot types such as flat foot or excessive pronation of the feet (where the feet roll inwards), both of which can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the big toe because of the additional weight and pressure your foot structure places on the joint.
- Job – Occupations that involve a lot of squatting or stress placed on the big toe joint considerably increase your odds of getting hallux rigidus.
- Age – Growing old is a fact of life and unfortunately you are more likely to develop this condition as you age. Between the ages of 30 and 60 is the time that most cases of this condition are diagnosed.
- Other health issues – If you have other inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout or lupus, you may experience significant pain in the big toe joint that requires medical evaluation to determine your treatment options.
What should you do about it?
Hallux rigidus treatment options vary according to the severity and pain level you are experiencing. Fortunately, many cases of big toe joint arthritis can be treated with non-surgical options including anti-inflammatory medications, orthotic devices and cortisone injections to name a few.
In some cases, the best approach for remedying the pain in the big toe joint is surgery and there are several different options. To learn about the types of surgery performed at Extend Orthopedics for hallux rigidus including cheilectomy and arthrodesis, visit our big toe joint arthritis page to get more information.
Looking for treatment for big toe joint arthritis in NY?
Due to the progressive nature of osteoarthritis of the big toe joint, it is best to seek treatment at the first sign of symptoms, as it can produce worsening pain and stiffness over time. Call our office at (212) 434-4920 or fill out the form on this page to schedule a consultation with Stuart Katchis, M.D. and learn about your treatment options. Extend Orthopedics offers two convenient locations in the New York City area, one on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and one in Scarsdale, NY.