Hallux Rigidus: When Your Big Toe Causes You Pain

Pain and stiffness in the big toe can be a big deal. The podiatrists at Montgomery Foot Care Specialists want you to know about “hallux rigidus,” the medical term for a form of debilitating arthritis in the big toe. Sports fans may recall that NBA star Shaquille O’Neal suffered from hallux rigidus, causing him to sit out 10 games back in 2002.

“Hallux” means big toe, while “rigidus” means it’s stiff and can’t move. Hallux rigidus gets worse over time and can become disabling, so it’s important to treat it early on.

Symptoms of hallux rigidus
While this condition is still in its early stages, you might experience

  • Swelling around the joint at the base of your big toe
  • Limited range of motion in your big toe (“hallux limitus”)
  • A feeling of stiffness or pain in your big toe as you walk, run, bend, or stand
  • Pain and stiffness that gets worse in cold or damp weather.

In its later stages, hallux rigidus is characterized by

  • The inability to move the big toe at all
  • Bunions, calluses, or bone spurs that begin to form on top of the foot
  • Pain even when you aren’t moving
  • Limping or some other change in the way you walk, causing pain that spreads to your knee, hip, or lower back.


In most cases, the “wear and tear” arthritis that leads to hallux rigidus develops as a result of one of the following:

  • Genetics – structural abnormalities that you’ve inherited
  • Overuse – often seen in people whose job requires them to stoop or squat
  • Inflammatory disease, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Blunt injury, such as stubbing your toe.


Depending on the severity of the condition, our podiatrists Michael L. Rosenberg, D.P.M. and Heidi M. Christie, D.P.M. are uniquely qualified to recommend the proper treatment, which may include over-the-counter pain relievers, rest, steroid injections, physical therapy, orthotics, or special shoes with rocker-bottoms.

In advanced cases, surgery may become necessary to completely relieve the pain from hallux rigidus. You may be able to prevent that step by making an appointment with us at the first sign of big toe trouble. Call us at our Montgomery office at (334) 396-3668.