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Hallux limitus is a condition that affects the hallux, which is the joint where your big toe connects to your foot. It results in limited movement of this joint.

People with hallux limitus have limited flexibility in the joint and trouble bending their big toe. The inflexibility leads to pain, especially when walking.

As the condition progresses, you can develop bone spurs and arthritis in your big toe, eventually making the toe joint completely rigid. When this happens, the condition is called hallux rigidus, which is osteoarthritis of the big toe.

Read on to learn about what causes hallux limits and how it’s treated.

The symptoms of hallux limitus start out mild and slowly worsen.

Symptoms include:

  • pain, usually at the top of your joint, that worsens with walking or other activities that bend the joint
  • trouble flexing your big toe
  • a bony lump on the top if your big toe joint that may hurt when it rubs against your shoe
  • numbness or tingling, if bone spurs press on nerves
  • a callus under the joint caused by increased pressure

If your symptoms cause you to walk differently, you might also experience knee, hip, or low back pain.

There is no specific cause of hallux limitus, but experts have identified several things that can increase your risk of developing it.

These include:

  • Unusual foot anatomy. Some people are born with an abnormal metatarsal joint or a first metatarsal bone that’s elevated or too long. This prevents the joint from working properly.
  • Injury. Injuries, such as severely stubbing your toe, toe sprains, or a broken toe, can damage the joint and contribute to hallux limitus.
  • Overuse. Participating in activities or occupations that involve repeated pressure on your toes can lead to damage from overuse.
  • Incorrect footwear. Frequently wearing high heels places additional stress on your toe joint. Wearing shoes that are too small can also affect the joints.
  • Family history. Having a family member with hallux limitus or hallux rigidus increases your risk for developing it. This may come from inheriting a foot abnormality or way of walking.
  • Arthritic disorders. Certain types of arthritis can change your foot’s movement, such as gout, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Hallux limitus is usually diagnosed by a physical examination and X-ray of your foot. The X-ray will show the shape and length of your metatarsal bone and any bone spurs or cartilage loss.

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine your toe to check its flexibility and look for other possible causes of your symptoms, such as an injury.

You can usually manage hallux limitus on your own with conservative treatments.

These include:

  • wearing shoes that are the right length and width to not place pressure on your big toe and its joint
  • wearing shoes with a rigid sole to reduce bending of your big toe when walking
  • not wearing shoes with heels higher than one inch
  • using a soft gel pad, available to purchase in a variety of forms online, to reduce pressure on the joint
  • wearing over-the-counter (OTC) or custom orthotics if you have flat arches
  • taking OTC anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), or aspirin
  • applying ice to the painful area 2 or 3 times a day for 15 minutes at a time

Your healthcare provider may recommend corticosteroid injections to relieve pain and inflammation if these home treatments aren’t providing enough relief.

Surgery is more often reserved for when hallux limitus progresses to hallux rigidus. But if you have severe symptoms or you have a foot deformity that’s contributing to your hallux limitus, surgery might be an option.

A cheilectomy is the procedure most commonly used to treat hallux limitus or mild to moderate hallux rigidus. This procedure involves making an incision on the top of your foot, shaving down bone spurs, and removing some of the metatarsal bone.

This gives your joint the space it needs to move properly, improving flexibility and reducing pain.

Hallux limitus is a progressive condition, meaning it gets worse over time. But home treatments, such as wearing supportive shoes, can help to keep symptoms under control. If home treatments stop providing relief, ask your healthcare provider about cortisone shots.