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Big toe arthritis and foot pain? Here's what you need to know

Updated: Oct 19, 2023


Foot with big toe pain being being held by hand
Pain in big toe

Big toe arthritis, also known as hallux rigidus, is a condition that affects the joint at the base of the big toe. This joint is called the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint and is responsible for allowing the big toe to move up and down.

When this joint becomes abnormally loaded on a regular basis, it leads to joint changes, pain and stiffness.

Symptoms of Big Toe Arthritis: The symptoms of big toe arthritis can vary from person to person, but some common symptoms include:

  1. Pain: Pain in the big toe, particularly during activities that involve bending or pushing off the big toe, such as walking or running, is a common symptom of big toe arthritis.

  2. Stiffness: Stiffness and limited range of motion in the big toe can be a symptom of big toe arthritis.

  3. Swelling: Swelling and inflammation around the base of the big toe can be a symptom of big toe arthritis.

  4. Bone Spur: The development of a bone spur on the top of the big toe joint can be a symptom of big toe arthritis.

Causes of Big Toe Arthritis: The causes of big toe arthritis are not always clear, but some factors that may increase the risk of developing this condition include:

  1. Genetics: Certain genetic factors may increase the risk of developing big toe arthritis.

  2. Trauma: A previous injury to the big toe or the big toe joint can increase the risk of developing big toe arthritis.

  3. Wear and Tear: The natural wear and tear that occurs with aging can lead to degeneration of the cartilage in the big toe joint, increasing the risk of big toe arthritis.

  4. Foot Structure: Certain foot structures, such as flat feet or high arches, can put extra stress on the big toe joint and increase the risk of big toe arthritis.

Treatment Options for Big Toe Arthritis: The treatment of big toe arthritis typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes, footwear & foot orthotics, and medication. Here are some effective treatment options for big toe arthritis:

  1. Footwear Modifications: Wearing shoes with a stiff sole and a wide toe box can help to reduce stress on the big toe joint and alleviate symptoms of big toe arthritis.

  2. Strengthening exercises: Targeted exercises can help to improve flexibility and strength in the foot and ankle, reducing stress on the big toe joint and improving range of motion.

  3. Custom-made Orthotics: Using a footwear scanner and modelling software to create a custom fit, orthotics are designed to help reposition the joint into a better functioning position to reduce stress on the big toe joint thereby helping to reduce pain and the rate of ongoing damage.

  4. Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) eg Nurofen and other pain relievers can be used to alleviate pain and inflammation associated with big toe arthritis as recommended by a health professional.

  5. Injections: Corticosteroid injections can be used to reduce inflammation and pain in the big toe joint, providing relief from big toe arthritis symptoms.

  6. Surgery: In severe cases of big toe arthritis, surgery may be necessary to remove the damaged cartilage and improve joint function.


Prevention of Big Toe Arthritis: While big toe arthritis cannot always be prevented, there are some steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk of developing this painful condition:

  1. Proper Footwear: Wearing proper footwear that provides adequate arch support and cushioning can help to reduce stress on the big toe joint and reduce the risk of big toe arthritis.

  2. Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce the stress on the big toe joint and reduce the risk of degeneration and pain.

  3. Stretching: Stretching the muscles and ligaments in the foot and ankle can help to improve flexibility and reduce stress on the big toe joint. Some effective stretches include calf stretches, Achilles tendon stretches, and toe stretches.

  4. Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise can help to improve joint flexibility and reduce stress on the big toe joint. Activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming can be beneficial for individuals with big toe arthritis.

  5. Avoid High Impact Activities: High impact activities, such as running and jumping, can put significant stress on the big toe joint and increase the risk of big toe arthritis. Individuals with a history of foot injuries should also be cautious with high-impact activities.

  6. Take Breaks During Activities: Taking breaks during activities that involve repetitive motion, such as walking or running, can help to reduce stress on the big toe joint and reduce the risk of big toe arthritis.

In summary, to help the reduce the severity of symptoms and the rate of ongoing damage with big toe arthritis, take steps to maintain a healthy weight, wear supportive footwear and orthotics, stretch your feet regularly, exercise regularly, avoid high-impact activities, and take breaks during activities.


While these steps may not completely eliminate the development of big toe arthritis, they will help to reduce the rate of change and maintain the function of the big toe joint.


For individual assessment and recommendations for all lower limb issues, contact our team at Foot Systems Podiatry.



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