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What are Common Causes of Big Toe Joint Pain?

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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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The exact causes of big toe joint pain are uncertain. Experts suggest that potential causes could include previous injury to or overuse of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. Some individuals, such as people with fallen arches, might be more susceptible due to minor structural differences. Big toe joint pain could also be a symptom of an inflammatory disease, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis. This condition typically occurs in adults 30 to 60 years old.

The medical term for big toe joint pain is Hallux rigidus, and the term Hallux limitus might be used for less severe cases. This condition is a form of degenerative arthritis featuring a stiff or "frozen" joint that no longer bends comfortably due to the loss of protective cartilage between the bones. Degeneration of the joint occurs due to bone-on-bone friction, and the formation of bone spurs or bony outgrowths happens in more advanced cases. As the MTP joint naturally bends each time the individual takes a step, stiffness of the joint eventually leads to big toe joint pain when walking. Other symptoms, which sometimes grow worse in cold and damp weather, could include swelling in the area surrounding the big toe joint, inability to bend the big toe upward or downward, or the formation of a bump on the top of the foot caused by bone spurs.

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Although it is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause, some individuals might develop big toe joint pain as a result of traumatic injury to the joint that leads to degeneration of cartilage between bones. One example of such an injury might be stubbing the big toe on furniture. People whose occupations require frequent stooping or crouching could be at greater risk for developing this condition through chronic overuse of the MTP joint.

Big toe joint pain is diagnosed through physical examination of the foot. This exam should be done by an expert such as an orthopedic specialist. X-rays could also be utilized to assess internal damage to the joint and visualize any bone spurs that have formed.

Treatment for this condition involves efforts to temporarily reduce painful symptoms. This might include the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, ice packs, special shoes or orthotic devices, or cortisone injections. In severe cases, surgery might be recommended to remove bone spurs, fuse together the MTP joint, or replace the joint with an artificial joint made of plastic or metal.

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