How To Treat Big Toe Joint Stiffness And Discomfort

Your big toe joint is located at the base of your big toe and helps the area move and manage the stress it absorbs with each step you take. Like any joint, your big toe joint can be prone to arthritic degeneration and cartilage loss. When this happens, simple actions like walking, running or jumping can become extremely uncomfortable. So how can you prevent this discomfort, and what are some of the ways to treat big toe joint arthritis? We explain how Dr. McDonald can help you treat big toe joint stiffness in today’s blog.

Causes And Symptoms Of Big Toe Joint Arthritis

Mechanically speaking, big toe stiffness, also known as hallux rigidus, is caused when the cartilage covering the ends of the bones in the big toe joint wear down. When this happens, the bones in the joint begin rubbing against one another and movement becomes less fluid.

Your big toe joint can wear down for a number of reasons, some more preventable than others. Repetitive strain over the course of your life can slowly break down this cartilage, as can an acute injury. Some people also have a genetic predisposition to big toe arthritis based on how their foot is shaped and the way that pressure is dispersed as they walk.

Symptoms of big toe arthritis include:

  • Stiffness
  • Limited flexibility in the toe
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Pain that worsens with activity

Treating Big Toe Arthritis

If you are dealing with any of the above symptoms, you may be experiencing the early stages of big toe arthritis. You may be thinking that since symptoms are mild, you don’t need to treat them with urgency. While they may not be the most uncomfortable, the mild symptoms mean that the issues in your big toe joint are currently at their most treatable. Treating the condition now is more likely to lead to symptom reduction or elimination, so don’t wait until the problem progresses.

The first line of treatment for big toe arthritis is conservative care, and it tends to provide enough relief that patients do not need to pursue surgical correction. Nonsurgical treatments will involve a combination of rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, footwear changes, orthotic inserts and physical therapy to help strengthen the joint. Cortisone injections may also be considered for more symptomatic cases.

In the event that conservative care does not adequately address the problem, surgery may be recommended. The two most common surgical treatments to address issues caused by big toe arthritis are the cheilectomy and arthrodesis:

  • Cheilectomy – With this procedure, the surgeon removes offending bone spurs and a portion of the foot bone to give your big toe an enhanced range of motion. This is typically performed on patients with less severe arthritic degeneration, and usually yields great long-term results.
  • Arthrodesis – For severe big toe arthritis, your foot surgeon may perform an arthrodesis, which involves removing the damaged cartilage and fusing the bones in the big toe joint together to greatly reduce joint movement. Since joint motion is painful, this fusion greatly helps to relieve discomfort. Motion is sacrificed in order to significantly reduce symptoms.

If you believe you may be suffering from big toe arthritis, connect with Dr. McDonald and start a treatment plan when your toe is more receptive to treatment. Otherwise you may be connecting with his office to schedule surgery down the road! For more information, or for help with a different foot or ankle issue, give our office a call today at (860) 244-8889.

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