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Hallux Limitus

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Hallux limitus is a term that describes early-stage stiffness and loss of motion in the joint at the base of the big toe. In hallux limitus patients, the toe cannot bend upward. Eventually this limited movement causes jamming of the toe joint. Repetitive jamming can lead to arthritis and extra bone growth over the top of the joint (this is known as a dorsal bunion).

Hallux limitus is a progressive condition; eventually the toe joint can become rigid or frozen. This later stage is referred to as hallux rigidus.

Causes of hallux limitus

Some people are genetically predisposed to develop hallux limitus; others develop the condition from trauma or overuse.

The following factors can lead to hallux limitus: 

  • Excessive pronation (inward roll of the foot). 
  • Gout. 
  • High arches. 
  • Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease).
  • Overly long metatarsal bone. 
  • Overly short metatarsal bone. 
  • Repetitive injuries (particularly jamming the toe).

All of these factors contribute to excessive wear of the toe joint cartilage, causing limited mobility and deterioration of the joint.

Hallux limitus symptoms

Hallux limitus is the first stage of a progressive condition. Initially, patients will experience a deep ache when they try to flex their toe joint upward. Pain and stiffness at the base of the toe will occur when walking. Usually the pain disappears when the joint is at rest.

There may also be swelling and inflammation at the base of the big toe, especially on top of the joint. Eventually damage to the cartilage in the joint will cause an overgrowth of bone. These bone spurs might not be painful, but they can lead to calluses caused by friction between the skin and the shoe.

Hallux limitus treatment

Early treatment of hallux limitus is essential to halt the progression of the condition.

Conservative treatment options include: 

  • Anti-inflammatory medication. 
  • Change in shoe wear (wider shoes take pressure off the toe joint). 
  • Custom orthotics. 
  • Physical therapy. 
  • Steroid injections.

When conservative treatment fails, surgical intervention might be necessary. Every case of hallux limitus is unique; surgical treatment will depend on the cause of the condition, the quantity of bony overgrowth, the amount of joint deterioration, and the amount of pain.

Surgical options include: 

  • Fusing of the joint. 
  • Joint implants.
  • Joint remodeling. 
  • Realignment of the bone.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, visit your doctor for an examination. Early treatment for this condition is important to halt its degenerative process.