Dr. thomas mcdonald patient after foot and ankle surgery

How To Treat Arthritis Of The Big Toe

Arthritis is a degenerative condition that can affect any joint in the body, and while much of the attention oftentimes gets focused on how it affects larger joints like the hip or knee, arthritis can also cause problems in smaller joints, like in our feet. The most common location for arthritis to develop in the foot is in the big toe joint, and statistics show that the condition affects 1 in 40 people over the age of 50. In today’s blog, we explore why big toe arthritis develops, the symptoms it causes and the best options for treatment.

Causes And Symptoms Of Big Toe Arthritis

Big toe arthritis, also known in the medical world as hallux rigidus, involves the deterioration of the cartilage or soft tissues in the big toe joint that aid in unrestricted movement. Oftentimes it can develop slowly over the years as a result of normal wear and tear on the joint, which is why it commonly affects adults over the age of 50 who have put a lot of stress on their toes. That said, you may be more likely to develop big toe arthritis if you are overweight, you’ve suffered acute trauma to the toe or you have a family history of big toe arthritis.

Symptoms of hallux rigidus include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Visible deformity of the big toe
  • Tenderness
  • Bunion formation

If you are dealing with any of these symptoms or you have reason to believe you may be dealing with arthritis of the big toe, it’s imperative that you set up a consultation with a foot specialist like Dr. McDonald. Because while it’s not as serious as some other medical conditions, treatment success and symptom alleviation depend heavily on catching the problem early and diving into the right treatment plan, so the longer you put off care, the worse your toe will likely be in the long run.

Diagnosing And Treating Big Toe Arthritis

Many foot specialists can make a diagnosis of big toe arthritis simply by reviewing your medical history and a physical examination, although X-rays may be taken to get a better idea of the extent of the damage and to rule out the possibility of bone spurs. If big toe arthritis is the diagnosis, your doctor will likely begin by walking you through your non-operative solutions.

Many cases of big toe arthritis respond well to conservative techniques. While they will not reverse the damage to the joint, these techniques can help to curb or alleviate symptoms by strengthening supportive structures both inside and around the joint. Some of the most common non-operative techniques used in combination with one another are rest, anti-inflammatory medications, footwear changes to a wider and more comfortable shoe, orthotic inserts, weight loss and physical therapy exercises.

If those options fail to provide relief, your doctor may talk to you about some more hands-on treatments. Sometimes steroid injections can help calm symptoms in the short-term, and while they aren’t a long-term solution, they may make it easier to pursue some of the non-operative treatments listed above. Otherwise a minimally invasive procedure may be recommended. Surgery will be based on your individual needs, and can involve debriding the area of loose objects, fusing the toe joint to limit painful movement, or replacing the joint with a synthetic implant. Your surgeon can walk you through each procedure based on what’s best for your situation.

So if you are dealing with pain, swelling and stiffness in your big toe, don’t just assume it will eventually go away on its own, because odds are it will only get worse. Instead, sync up with Dr. McDonald and put an end to the problems caused by your big toe arthritis. For more information, or to set up a consultation with Dr. McDonald’s office, give his team a call today at (860) 244-8889.

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