It is hard to ignore any pain or discomfort in the big toe. Even when arthritis in the big toe is in the early stages, the condition makes itself known with tenderness and joint pain.
Many people notice that their other toes or foot arch can also start to ache along with their big toe when walking. As arthritis of the big toe develops over time, you may also notice that your big toe starts to feel hot, which is a sign of neuropathy (nerve pain).
It can be easy to ignore the early signs of arthritis in the big toe or hallux rigidus to give it its medical name. Many people can blame aches and tenderness on breaking in a new pair of shoes or wearing too tight socks.
But if you notice your big toe starts to ache after long periods of sitting down or when you first wake up in the morning, these are signs of arthritis in the joint of your big toe.
What causes big toe pain to develop?
Arthritis is an inflammatory disease, so you may notice inflammation and swelling around the joint of your big toe that is painful to the touch. What happens in the joint is that it starts to degenerate, and a reactive bone process is triggered, such as ankylosing or bone spurs.
This reactive bone growth can cause the joint of your big toe to fuse and become stiff. You will be unable to bend the joint, and the big toe will become rigid (hallux rigidus). The lack of flexibility in the joint makes it painful for you to stand and walk or when you try to flex and move your big toe.
What does arthritis in the big toe look like?
Because arthritis is an inflammatory disease, you may notice that your big toe looks swollen and red. This is caused by inflammation building up around the joint of your toe.
The pressure on your joint can lead to damaged cartilage, which then causes the end of the bone joints to rub together when walking or moving around, which causes even more inflammation.
The joint of your big toe starts to disintegrate, so your body will try to repair the damaged joint by laying down more bone material. This creates bone spurs around the joint that can protrude and look lumpy under the skin.
Many people are utterly unaware that bone spurs develop until they notice a bump on their big toe that feels hard to the touch. As more bone spurs develop, the big toe can start to push against your other toes, causing swelling at the base of the big toe and causing a bunion to form.
A bunion is a swelling of the joint capsule. It is not bone, so it won’t show up on an X-ray.
What does arthritis in the toe feel like?
When you develop arthritis in your big toe, it causes an imbalance in how you walk. This can also make bunions more likely to develop.
As you walk, your swollen big toe joint and bunions push and rub up against the inside of your shoe, causing your big toe to push against your other toes, making walking unstable and very painful.
If left untreated, over time, bunions will cause corns to develop. Corns are painful growths with a central core of hard tissue with callused skin build-up around them. Eventually, you can develop hammertoes where your toes become bent out of shape and can cross over each other, making walking and standing very painful for too long.
How to diagnose arthritis in the big toe
If you are experiencing pain and swelling in your big toe and you suspect you are developing arthritis, it makes sense to seek out specialist help as soon as possible.
Getting a diagnosis from Dr Bhadauria is easy. Simply contact our friendly team to book a private consultation in one of our London-based clinics. Dr Bhadauria will give your feet a physical examination, discuss your symptoms and schedule the most appropriate diagnostic tests needed to provide you with a proper diagnosis.
You may need an X-ray of your big toe to assess the level of joint degeneration and even a scan to determine the health of your joint cartilage. It is essential to have a specialist diagnosis to rule out any other possible causes for your symptoms.
You are more likely to develop arthritis if:
- There is a family history of it
- You are overweight
- You have an old injury to your foot
- Hallux rigidus also can occur after a toe injury or deformity of the foot
Best shoes for arthritis in the big toe
Wearing the proper footwear can make a massive difference if you have arthritis of the big toe. Wherever possible, you should avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes that can cause pressure on your big toe.
Wearing high heels can also cause more pain and inflammation in the big toe as more body weight is shifted over the toes rather than being more evenly spread out over the whole foot.
Shoe fashions come and go, but where possible, try to avoid wearing shoes with pointy toes as this will crush your toes into an uncomfortable position that can push your toe joins out of their correct place and cause bunions to develop.
Wearing wide-fitting shoes with cushion inserts will allow your feet to spread out and encourage good blood circulation. Using arch supports can also help prevent your feet from rubbing against your shoes and causing pain.
Arthritis in big toe exercises
Gentle exercise and stretching can help maintain flexibility in your toe joints and encourage good blood circulation. It is advisable to wear a supportive athletic shoe when you exercise as this will give your toes good support and comfort while you work out.
Dr Bhadauria and his team will also show you specific stretches and exercises for your feet to help build strength and maintain flexibility.
Walking, swimming, yoga and pilates are excellent exercises for overall fitness and joint flexibility. Swimming is especially beneficial because it is a non-weight-bearing exercise, and you can work on building your strength and endurance without the pain in your big toe disrupting your progress.
Toe support for arthritis
As mentioned above, wearing the most appropriate footwear can help support your big toe and ease the pressure and pain by avoiding wearing ill-fitting shoes.
However, you may benefit from wearing compression socks, a toe splint or a brace to support your toes and help with proper toe alignment. In some cases, using a walking stick can help you feel more stable when walking or standing for long periods.
How to get rid of arthritis in the big toe
Unfortunately, arthritis in the big toe is a condition that cannot be cured but can be successfully managed with proper treatment. Big toe arthritis treatment can include using over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, and anti-inflammatories can help lessen pain and swelling.
There are also topical anti-inflammatory creams or lotions that you can use to help reduce the level of pain and swelling in your big toe joint. These can be helpful to quell a painful flare after exercise or accidentally stubbing your big toe.
You may also benefit from steroid joint injections that Dr Bhadauria can administer. This is an anti-inflammatory pain killer injected directly into the affected joint and will help reduce the pain and swelling caused by your condition.
A single corticosteroid joint injection is very effective and can give you a few weeks of relief. Depending on your symptoms and diagnosis, you can have three or four steroid joint injections per year.
Arthritis big toe joint natural treatment
Placing ice packs on the swollen toe can offer temporary relief. You can also try to reduce levels of pain and inflammation by maintaining a healthy weight, which puts less pressure on your painful joints.
Maintaining healthy blood glucose levels can also help reduce painful flare-ups in your big toe. It is well known that people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop arthritis, so avoiding frequent blood sugar spikes is advisable. High blood sugar creates the formation of molecules in the blood that cause joint cartilage to stiffen and become inflexible.
Avoid sugar-laden fizzy drinks, sweets and high-carbohydrate food and eat more protein-rich foods to support healthy muscle and tissue growth.
You are also more likely to develop arthritis in your big toe if you have ever injured the toe joint. Always wear supportive footwear as already covered above, and wear protective footwear when playing sports or exercising.
Practice sound lifting techniques when lifting or carrying heavy objects. Spread the weight of any heavy bags or shopping you carry evenly over both sides of your body to avoid putting too much pressure on an arthritic toe.
You can do many things to ease the pain and swelling in your big toe, but the first thing should be to get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment from Dr Bhadauria at one of his London clinics that is most convenient for you to visit. Book your consultation today.
Article by Dr. Naveen Bhadauria