Hallux Rigidus vs. Bunion – What is your Big Toe Pain?

There are an array of factors that can contribute to big toe pain and sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between hallux rigidus – a disorder of the joint that is located at the base of the big toe or a bunion – a bony bump that forms on the joint where your big toe meets your foot. It is important to see a podiatrist if you are experiencing any pain in your big toe joint. Hallux rigidus and bunions require very different treatments. If either of these are misdiagnosed or left untreated, pain will increase and other problems can ensue.

When It Is Hallux Rigidus

Hallux rigidus is a form of degenerative arthritis usually most common in individuals around age 40.  When it occurs, the big toe gets stiff and becomes increasingly harder to move and bend.

Because hallux rigidus is a progressive condition, the toe’s motion decreases as time goes on. In its beginning stages Doctors refer to this disorder as hallux limitus, however; as the joint stiffens more and range of motion gradually decreases, the toe is referred to as a “frozen joint” or “rigidus”.


Common Symptoms of Hallux Rigidus:

  • Pain in the big toe during use or activity
  • Stiffness and decreased range of motion of the big toe joint
  • Aggravation by cold and damp weather
  • Joint Swelling and inflammation
  • Extra bone growth, bone spurs or prominence noted on top of the joint

Limited motion of the big toe caused by hallux rigidus

When To See A Doctor

It is important that if you experience any of the symptoms above that you make an appointment at one of our Da Vinci Foot and Ankle locations. One of our Doctors will examine your feet and move the toe to determine its range of motion. X-rays should be taken to help determine the severity of the joint disease as well as to rule out other joint abnormalities. In some cases, an MRI may be ordered to evaluate the cartilage on the surface of the joint.

Additionally, a specialist should examine your big toe joint to determine what conservative options may help. Typically, it is good to start by upgrading your shoes and your arch support, including the use of a specialized orthotic. There are many over-the-counter orthotic inserts to try, however, a firm insert works best as it helps to stabilize the great toe joint more effectively.

Cortisone injection, anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, ice, and topical medications may also work well to alleviate pain. Tens Unit therapy and Laser therapy are additional conservative options that may help to decrease pain.

When Surgery Is Necessary

In some cases, surgery is the only way to eliminate or reduce pain in the big toe joint. Surgical treatment can only be determined by a foot and ankle surgeon and will only be suggested as a last resort if self-care and management does not alleviate symptoms. Da Vinci Foot and Ankle surgeons have worked hard to minimize the incision for this surgery and maximize the results that you have from it.

If you experience any of the symptoms above, make an appointment at one of our locations. You don’t have to live with pain. Da Vinci Foot and Ankle can help!

You don’t have to live with pain. Da Vinci Foot and Ankle can help!

CLICK HERE to book your next appointment at Da Vinci Foot and Ankle.

Lake Oconee, GA 706-999-9994

West Augusta, GA 706-597-0102

Madison, GA 706-999-9994