Hallux limitus is a medical condition which means “stiff toe”. It is actually an arthritic condition that limits movement of the big toe. The pain is usually located at the area where your large toe and foot meet. The condition is not serious, but should be treated since it can lead to hallux rigidus, in which motion of the big toe is extremely limited.
The symptoms of hallux limitus are easy to overlook. Anyone can feel a toe pain and believe that it is nothing serious. However, some of the things you will feel and see are sharp pain, development of bone growths, feelings of tightness around the joint, difficulties wearing shoes, inflammation of the joint, and even the change in the way you walk. If you experience these symptoms, you should see a podiatrist while the condition is still in the early stages.
This condition may be a result of genetics, or of simply wearing out your feet. In the first case, people can inherit hallux limitus from their parents, or even be born with a predisposition to arthritis. Injury or overuse can cause trauma to the joint which can lead to extra bone growth and the wearing a way of cartilage. These situations will lead to arthritis and thus pain and limited motion in the toe. In some cases, certain systemic diseases such as lupus or gout can cause hallux limitus.
There are different methods for diagnosis, but an x-ray is generally performed along with a test to determine the big toe's range of motion.
A limited number of treatments are available; in mild cases lifestyle and physical therapy are recommended, along with oral anti-inflammatory medications. The R.I.C.E. method stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation, and it is immensely helpful in this case.
With hallux limitus it is crucial not to overuse the toe, and to be careful when it comes to exercise and other physical activities. Too much activity can destroy the cartilage that remains in the toe joint, making the toe even stiffer.
However, if the patient does not show any improvement, surgery is the only answer. The most common surgeries are arthrodesis, to fuse the joint, and cheilectomy, in which the joint is cleaned of scar tissue so the toe can move more easily. Many patients who receive surgery are able to go back to the activities they enjoy a couple of months after the operation.