Big Toe Arthritis (Hallux Limitus and Hallux Rigidus)

Arthritis in the big toe can be quite painful, since the big toe is such a vital part of walking. A main cause is Hallux Limitus, which will develop into a painful, degenerative condition if left untreated.

When we humans walk, our big toe joint bends up to an impressive 75 degrees just before the foot leaves the ground. But sometimes, due to unusual wearing and tearing of the cartilage in the toe joint, the toe becomes stiff and starts to hurt. It’s a condition known as Hallux Limitus, in which the toe’s movement is limited.

When that happens, instead of bending at that awesome angle, the toe is pushed toward the ground each time you take a step.

This just causes even more wear and tear on the joint, leading to more pain, more damage and eventually arthritis.

If left untreated, Hallux Limitus can turn into Hallux Rigidus, which is a stiff big toe joint that won’t move. We need to make sure it never gets that far.

How Do You Develop Hallux Limitus?
  • Repetitive injuries caused by running on your toes, dropping heavy things on your big toe joint, wearing stilettos or shoes that don’t fit, and squatting for long periods of time (So watch out, baseball catchers!)
  • Pronation, which is when the feet roll outward when walking, which places excessive pressure on the big toe
  • Genetic defects in the toe and joint
  • Overly high arches
  • Osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis that usually just comes with age
Common Symptoms of Hallux Limitus

You need to schedule an appointment for an evaluation so it can be properly diagnosed, because this isn’t a condition you want to mess around with. But the symptoms include:

  • Pain or stiffness in the big toe, especially when it’s in use;
  • Swelling or a tight feeling around the big toe joint; and
  • Aches in the joint that are brought on by cold, damp weather.
Hallux Rigidus Is More Severe

If the condition progresses into Hallux Rigidus, these symptoms become more serious. You might feel a constant pain in the big toe joint, whether or not it’s in motion.

The toe will become very stiff and unable to bend, making it extremely painful to walk. Some patients say they can literally feel the bones grinding against each other as they walk.

Another sure sign is getting bone spurs, which happen when the worn bone tries to regenerate and small bumps of bone pop up around the big toe and on top of the joint. Sometimes you can even see these from the outside.

If an elderly relative complains that it hurts to wear shoes, hurts to walk, or they start to limp or show signs of bone spurs, bring them in for a check-up. These can all be signs of Hallux Limitus and Hallux Rigidus.

Treatments for Big Toe Arthritis

As with most conditions, how we treat it varies by your foot type, how bad pain is, and how much it has limited your mobility.

The good news is, we can usually relieve the pain and avoid surgery if we catch it early enough.

First, we’ll take steps to correct any issues with the foot that might be contributing to the condition, such as supporting high arches, preventing pronation, and stabilizing the toe.

This is usually done with a custom foot orthotic that will offer support and immobilize the toe to prevent further damage. 

We’ll also take a look at the type of shoes you wear and the type of activities and exercise you frequently do to see if any adjustments need to be made.

Surgical Option

In advanced cases of Hallux Rigidus, surgery might be necessary to correct the problem and relieve the pain.

But this is only when the other treatments aren’t effective. Dr. Amy Barko, CWSP will discuss all considerations such as time off work, activity level and expectations. 

If you are experiencing foot pain, call our office or make an online appointment


Staff was extremely friendly and professional. They took us back immediately and no waiting for doctor to come in. Dr Settles-Carter was amazing with my little girl. She took her time and explained every detail to my daughter. As we were leaving my little girl said Dr Settles-Carter was the best doctor ever. Coming from a 10yr old.

Bert King

It took some work, and patience, but my feet are much better now. Dr. Freels worked with me to find exercises, and more importantly, the right shoe to wear. So nice not to dread going into work, for the pain of simply walking. Despite what another review here says, they've never tried to sell me any shoes there, have always left the choice up to me.

Robert Griffith

The staff was very courteous. However, the care provided by Dr. Carter and the staff in the back was exceptional! I finally had answers for my health concerns and issues and a course or plan of treatment including the costs of the services they provide. I especially liked the hours of operation...I can see a doctor for the treatment I need without having to use my personal and sick days! Love the flexibility. Lastly, the ambiance esthetics were relaxing and beautiful.

Bonnie Ogle Taylor

The entire staff at Lexington Podiatry was very welcoming and friendly. Jill went out of her way to make sure my daughter was taken care of. We appreciate being seen so quickly (it would have taken weeks to have seen an orthopedist for her foot injury). Now, she is on the road to recovery! Great office, thanks everyone!

Team Wade 24

Had a great experience! Everyone was very nice, it was clean, the doctor took time to listen to me. She showed me my x-rays and explained them to me. I would recommend them to family and friends.

Heather Purvis

Accepted Insurance Providers

There may be providers, plans and coverage not included on this list. We will help you with navigating the options for coverage and costs. We also accept HSA, Flex accounts, Care Credit and prompt pay pricing for treatment at the clinic and surgical procedures. We do not accept Medicaid or CareSource plans at this time. Visit our New Patient page for more details.