The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Hail, Hallux Rigidus!

Posted by on Thursday, May 17th, 2012


I’ve been reading a lot about the history of Rome lately, so when I first saw the term “hallux rigidus,” I wondered if I had accidentally stumbled into a history of Rome website, not a discussion of foot conditions.

Caesar spun sharply and barked out, “Where is Hallux Rigidus?”

A strong,tall man strode forward, “Here, Caesar.”

Caesar looked at him thoughtfully. “You have been a good soldier, Hallux Rigidus. Therefore, I want you to command one of my legions as we attack Gaul.”

“It will be an honor,” said Hallux Rigidus. “But how will we take Gaul?”

Caesar sighed. “All right, then. Gaul is divided into three parts…”

Alas, that’s not the truth at all. Rather, Hallux Rigidus is a painful condition of the big toe. Ouch! Let’s find out more about this nasty toe problem.

What’s up with the fancy name? It’s Latin, the language of botany, medicine, and cool figures from Roman history. “Hallux” means big toe and “Rigidus” means stiff (bet you already figured that one out).

So that must mean… Yes, it means you are suffering from a stiff big toe, or rather the joint at the base of the big toe (technically known as the metatarso-phalangeal or MTP joint). It actually is a form of degenerative arthritis, where the cartilage that protects your bone disintegrates.

Well, it’s just a toe, right? I mean, granted a BIG toe, but… Oh no! Don’t underrate the big toe, or any toe! You use your big toe to push off on every step you take. If you can’t flex your big toe, walking becomes very awkward. It can cause people to compensate by walking awkwardly, thus risking injuries to the hips, lower back, and knees.

What causes Hallux Rigidus? Many things!

  • Poor biomechanics, such as overpronation (rolling inward);
  • Traumatic injuries that spark the degenerative condition;
  • Excessive weight bearing while toe is flexed, such as a lot of time spent in a squatted position (we’re thinking of you, catchers);
  • Gout;
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.

How do I know I have it? Well, pain at the base of your toe. Loss of motion in your toe, pain in your toe even when you’re not walking, possibly swelling, maybe a bump on your toe if a bone spur develops. Pain in other body parts (hips, knees, lower back) from compensating for pain in your toe also is a hint.

It’s easier to deal with Hallux Rigidus if you catch it early, so if you experience any kind of difficulty with your big toe, you should contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) as soon as you can to get an accurate diagnosis. Ignoring the pain will likely mean you will be stuck with the most difficult course of treatment.

Okay, what are those courses of treatment? A podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) will first diagnose how you developed the condition and address that. To handle the actual condition of the toe, the podiatrist will start by advising you to rest that toe as much as possible and take anti-inflammatories to bring down the pain. If the pain and inflammation are severe, the podiatrist may give you a corticosteroid injection.

The podiatrist may then prescribe orthotics that can help with any biomechanical issues that make you roll your feet inward and put pressure on your big toe. You may also be advised to choose shoes that have a big toe box that allow your toe to rest comfortably. A course of physical therapy can also help you regain motion in your stiff big toe.

If all that doesn’t work, you may be advised to consider surgery. This may be to remove any bone growths that are causing pain and inhibiting movement or, in some cases, to replace the joint. Joint fusion, where the bones are fused together, is another possibility; that won’t help with mobility, but it will alleviate pain. A podiatric surgeon at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) will help determine which is right for you. Surgery’s never fun, but you can get through it (read one runner’s recovery story here).

Our brave hero Hallux is an important part of our daily life, but sometimes things can go bad and he can get a little Rigidus. If you suspect you have Hallux Rigidus or any other foot or ankle condition, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.



If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.