Hallux Rigidus

Hallux rigidus refers to osteoarthritis of the big toe.  The pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis gradually restricts the movement of the big toe.

This condition is more common in middle aged men and will often present in both big toes.

A bunion may also be present at the same time as hallux rigidus.  Your surgeon will review the most appropriate treatment according to which problem is more prevalent.

The big toe will feel stiff and gradually the pain can become quite severe and persistent, especially after standing or walking for any length of time.

Symptoms are usually triggered in the ‘push off’ phase of walking which relies on the forefoot and big toe region and puts the toe in a maximally extended position.

However the presentation of hallux rgidus, like most arthritic conditions, can be unpredictable.

A physical examination will determine the presence of hallux rigidus.  Range of motion of the big toe will be very restricted and there may be an appearance of bony growths on the top aspect of the big toe.  An x-ray will show the extent of the deformity, and help your consultant decide if surgery is necessary.

A combination of the level of pain, radiographic stage of degeneration, the presence of deformity and the chance of success versus the degree of restriction following treatment helps to reach an informed decision as to which of the many therapies will be most appropriate.

The principle with orthotic management is to offload the big toe during walking.  During normal walking the front part of the foot acts as a rocker, this requires the big toe joint to both extend and take weight.  By modifying a normal shoe to add a subtle rocker to the sole at the location of the joint, as well as stiffening the sole here so it doesn't bend, the foot can progress forwards normally with reduced big toe movement and thus reduced pressure through it.


This may be useful in the early stages of arthritis, however the effects are often temporary.

Arthroscopic debridement

A minimally invasive technique, generally for patients with moderately severe symptoms but lesser degrees of x-ray changes.

Open debridement

Debridement either by arthroscopic ‘keyhole’ surgery or by the standard ‘open’ procedure involves removal of any loose cartilage within the joint and fine drilling into small areas lacking cartilage.  This allows new, though poor quality cartilage, to form in drilled areas.  In addition the excess arthritic bone (osteophytes) which form on the top edge of the joint are removed.  This should allow an increased range of extension (upwards movement) post-operatively. 

Debridement is performed as a day case and a rigid bandage is applied afterwards.  A physiotherapist will ensure you are able to mobilise with crutches and generally you are allowed to weight-bear as much as is comfortable.  You will return to see the consultant two weeks after your surgery and be instructed on exercises to minimise stiffness.  Gradual return to full function will occur. 

Keller’s/Hamilton’s arthroplasty

A good option in the less mobile, more elderly patient.  This involves removal of one side of the painful joint and stops the pain of the arthritic joint however the big toe sometimes becomes floppy.


The two joint surfaces which are generating the pain due to osteoarthritis are removed and the remaining joint fuses as part of the normal healing process following surgery.  The joints are fixated together utilizing screws.

Similar to an ankle fusion, the joints either side from the fused joint can take over some of the original function of the affected joint.

You will need to keep your foot elevated for the first 48 hours.  You will be given crutches and generally will be able to weight bear as comfortable – your surgeon will advise.  All bandaging will be removed after two weeks, however it normally takes six weeks before you are able to wear your normal shoes.  It will take approximately 6-12 weeks for the bones to fuse fully and then there are no restrictions on activity, although you may find due to restricted movement you are limited on the height of heel that you can wear.


Your surgeon will discuss if a replacement is an option in your case and will outline the benefits and risks of surgery.


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