Hallux Rigidus Specialist | Arthritis in the Big Toe - Pittsburgh, PA

When you think about joint problems, you probably think about your wrists or knees. A much more underappreciated joint, however, is the joint that links your big toe to your foot. This part of the body works almost constantly. Every step we take causes the toe to bend and bear our weight. That’s a big job. Unfortunately, all that work can lead to problems with the joint. In fact, arthritis of the big toe is the most common type of arthritis of the foot. And once the condition develops, without medical care, patients can quickly lose mobility and find themselves living with extreme pain.

That’s where we can help. Established in 2004, Pittsburgh Foot and Hand Center is a local resource and care center for those affected by arthritis of the big toe. Since 1987, Dr. Bowman has provided the latest in both nonsurgical and surgical orthopaedic treatment to those affected by joint disorders. From our cutting-edge electronic medical records to our use of the latest in imaging technology, our staff process and training puts the focus on providing consistent care to you that is 100% based on your symptoms and needs. If you are struggling with joint pain, and this sounds like the care that you need, you're invited to contact us online or at (724) 933-3300. We look forward to working with you and helping you find relief!

FAQs on Arthritis of the Big Toe:

What is Arthritis?

"Arthritis" is a singular term used to refer to more than 100 different types of joint pain and joint disease, each with different causes and approaches to treatment. No matter the type of arthritis, however, the disease is marked by inflammation in at least one joint, although multiple joints can be affected. The result of arthritis is pain and stiffness, which often worsens with age.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, people of all ages, sexes, and races can and do have arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in America. More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis.

Why Does Pittsburgh Foot & Hand Center Focus on Arthritis of the Big Toe?

The most common site of arthritis in the foot is at the base of the big toe. This area is known as the first metatarsophalangeal joint, or MTP joint. And this joint flexes, bends, and bears our weight constantly throughout the day as we move. Depending on the nature of the arthritis:

  •  the joint may develop a wear-and-tear injury (i.e. Osteoarthritis) that damages the cartilage of the toe joint. (Cartilage is a connective tissue that reduces friction between joints.)
  • Or, in other cases, a bone spur begins to develop. 

But no matter the nature of the arthritic injury, the result is ultimately a stiff big toe, also known as a hallux rigidus. The condition is most likely to develop between the ages of 30 and 60.

What are Common Symptoms of Arthritis of the Big Toe? 

Common arthritis joint symptoms that can affect the big toe include swelling, pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion (i.e. harder to walk and/or flex the big toe). Patients may also develop a bump on the top of their foot due to pressure, swelling, or rubbing of inflamed tissues. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and may also come and go. In more severe cases, the disease can lead to chronic pain and make it difficult to move or engage in daily activities. 

How is Arthritis of the Big Toe Diagnosed?

When you suspect arthritis of the big toe, your doctor will examine the pained area; determine the mobility of the toe joint; and check for signs of bone spurs. Following an initial physical exam, x-rays will be used to provide images of the joint and locate any bone spurs developing as a result of arthritis.

Note that it's best to visit a doctor as soon as possible should you have trouble bending your toe up and down, or should you avoid putting weight on your entire foot due to toe pain. The sooner this condition is caught, the easier treatment is, particularly if you can receive a diagnosis before any bone spurs develop.

How is Arthritis of the Big Toe Treated?

While arthritis cannot be cured, it can be treated in a way that provides relief and slows the progress of the disease.

Following diagnosis, treatment begins with noninvasive lifestyle adjustments. For patients with big toe arthritis, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications are sometimes helpful with pain management and can keep the swelling of the joint at a minimum. Ice packs are also helpful, as is wearing a shoe specially designed to provide support and pain relief to the big toe by minimizing its motion.

When lifestyle adjustments and pain relief methods cannot control the symptoms of big toe arthritis, surgical options are the next step in treatment. Different types of surgery are available depending on the severity of the diagnosis. Each procedure can help address specific issues in a specific patient, including: 

  • removing bone spurs (which often provides short-term relief) 
  • fusing the bones of the big toe joint together (which, while highly effective in addressing pain, will prevent the patient from bending the toe in the future) 
  • have the entire joint replaced (which may relieve pain and preserve joint motion)

At the Pittsburgh Foot and Hand Center, Dr. Bowman also offers a procedure known as biocartilage repair. This procedure was developed by Dr. Bowman himself, and has been a part of his patient’s care and treatment options for the past twenty years.

What Can I Expect at Pittsburgh Foot & Hand Center?

The Pittsburgh Foot and Hand Center will initially provide an exam and prescribe any applicable lifestyle changes needed following a diagnosis. Where necessary, we can also prepare patients for a specific type of surgery that will best address the nature of their condition. 

Because every patient is different, specific questions about any diagnosis or surgery should always be discussed in-depth with your medical and/or surgical teams. That’s why we invite you to bring all of your questions to us during your visits, as well as by phone afterward if needed. We will gladly provide the information you need to make the right decision for your health needs.

In addition to Dr. Bowman’s expertise, our practice’s partnerships provide patients with the access they may need to additional care in the form of physical therapists, occupational therapists, and orthotists. Dr. Bowman - and, when needed, these partners - will constantly strive to provide a consistent and high level of nonoperative and postoperative care.