Small Joint, Big Problems

Arthritis is the wear and tear of the cartilage and bone of a joint. Most of the time, when arthritis is discussed, large joints like the hips or knees are mentioned. However, smaller joints, like those in the toes, can also face this issue. Hallux rigidus is a debilitating condition that impacts the bones and cartilage in the big toe. The cartilage wears away, causing the toe to be stiff, painful, and lose flexibility. Over time, hallux rigidus causes simple movements, like walking, climbing stairs, or running, to be painful. Hallux rigidus repair is a surgical solution for people suffering from the condition who desire long-term relief.


Causes of big toe arthritis

Hallux rigidus is often caused by poor foot alignment, bunions, or past injury to the toe. However, most doctors believe there is a genetic component. Most people will experience joint wear and tear, but only 2.5% report hallux rigidus. The condition usually affects the cartilage of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. This joint lies between the big toe's metatarsal and phalanx bone. Some signs include pain, swelling, stiffness, and general discomfort. In addition, most people develop a bump on the outside of the big toe caused by bone spurs. Hallux rigidus is often ignored until the condition progresses, but treatments are available.

Treating hallux rigidus

Without proper treatment, the toe experiences limited movement, which affects social activities, sports, and quality of life. Patients are even unable to use specific footwear due to severe pain. The toe also loses range of motion (ROM), which is necessary for walking on uneven surfaces. Most cases respond well to conservative treatment. For example, a doctor will recommend lifestyle changes, physical therapy (PT), and orthotics. These interventions go a long way toward improving movement and reducing pain. Patients can also benefit from steroid injections, which provide immediate but temporary relief. If conservative treatment doesn’t fix the problem, hallux rigidus repair should be considered.

Surgery for the toe

Hallux rigidus removes damaged and diseased cartilage and bone in the big toe. There are multiple surgical options to treat the toe, and the surgeon will discuss the proper procedure based on the degree of damage to the joint. Standard techniques include a joint fusion, osteotomy, and cheilectomy. A fusion or arthrodesis removes the damaged cartilage and bone spurs, allowing the 2 bones to fuse into a more robust piece. Osteotomy removes damaged cartilage but reshapes the bone to improve joint function. Finally, a cheilectomy only removes the damaged cartilage, bone spurs, and a possible joint replacement. Sometimes, the doctor will use minimally invasive options to perform the surgery, which can reduce post-operative pain and speed up healing.

Surgical effectiveness

Hallux rigidus surgery can improve pain and restore mobility for the patient. Statistics show that 90% of patients see success and reduced pain. However, some procedures, like arthrodesis, come with limitations. Since the joint fuses together, the patient experiences less pain but loses flexibility, limiting movement on some surfaces. After surgery, patients need at least 12 weeks of recovery. For arthrodesis, the joint needs several additional months to fuse. With any surgery, there is a risk of complications, including joint stiffness infections and failed fusions. However, doctors will attempt to minimize risk and increase the success rate.

Long-term relief is here

If left untreated, big toe arthritis can develop into severe pain and stiffness, limiting movement and negatively affecting quality of life. Many people continue to see success with surgery, especially if conservative methods fail. Hallux rigidus repair can provide years of relief.

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