The joint where the foot meets the big toe—the 1st metatarsal-phalangeal joint (MTP)—is a common site of pain for athletes and non-athletes alike. This condition is called hallux rigidus, and pain can range from a mild nuisance to disabling.

Here are five important things that you need to know if you have toe pain that is interfering with the activities you enjoy:

1. Pain in the big toe joint is common

Pain in this area of the big toe is common in both adults and teens, but is most common as a person enters middle age. Like other joints in the body, the cartilage in the MTP joint of the big toe can start to wear out or break down as a result of poor alignment, past injuries (even a bad toe stub can irritate the cartilage), and age. Like other joints, over time these can all eventually lead to inflammation, arthritis, or bone spurs in the joint that result in pain.

2. There are many effective non-surgical options

Something as simple as putting a stiff carbon plate insole inside your shoe can offer relief by limiting the motion of the MTP joint. There are also anti-inflammatory creams, injections, and other therapies that can offer significant relief. An orthopedic foot specialist will be able to determine if there is a non-surgical option that is right for you.

3. There are surgical options to alleviate pain

Two of the most common surgical techniques for hallux rigidus are procedures to remove bone spurs in the toe joint (cheilectomy) or to fuse the toe joint. There are also joint implants and synthetic cartilage options that can be done to relieve pain while maintaining the joint’s range of motion.

4. Know when to call a doctor

If you are doing less of something you enjoy due to toe pain, it’s time to call the doctor. There are many effective treatment options, both surgical and non-surgical, and an orthopedic foot specialist will help you to determine which treatment is right for you.

5. An orthopedic specialist is your best bet

It’s best to see an orthopedic specialist who has completed a foot and ankle fellowship. A fellowship is an extra year of training after orthopedic surgery residency that concentrates solely on the foot and ankle. A fellowship-trained foot and ankle specialist will be the most up-to-date on the latest treatment options and usually only sees patients with foot, ankle or toe conditions.

Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics in Nashville and Franklin, TN has two orthopedic surgeons that are fellowship-trained foot and ankle specialists: Jeffrey D. Willers, MD and Brian Thomson, MD. Dr. Willers is the foot and ankle specialist for the Tennessee Titans. Dr. Brian Thomson is a foot and ankle consultant for Vanderbilt University Athletics. Both are foot and ankle specialists for Belmont University and Lipscomb University Athletics.

Call 615.324.1600 or request an appointment below if you would like to see one of our foot and ankle specialists.

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