Big toe arthritis, also called 1st metatarsophalangeal (MTP) arthritis or hallux rigidus, is a common condition affecting the foot and ankle. It is the most common site for arthritis in the foot. Patients typically develop symptoms between age 30 and 60, and females are more commonly affected than men.
Patients typically develop stiffness and decreased range of motion at the big toe, which affects walking, running, and other athletic activities. Some patients develop large bone spurs on the top of the foot, which can cause pain with shoe wear and discomfort when going up on the toes.
Sometimes trauma (a fracture or crush injury) can lead to this condition, but for most patients there is no specific inciting event. Some patients are more likely than others to develop big toe arthritis, either because of some anatomic abnormality or because of genetic predisposition.
A clinical exam and x-rays can confirm the diagnosis. Generally, advanced imaging like MRI or CT scan is not required.
Non-surgical options include anti-inflammatories, shoe wear modifications, and over-the-counter or custom inserts (orthotics). Physical therapy can be helpful to maintain range of motion. Occasionally cortisone injections into the joint can decrease inflammation for a period of time.
Surgery can be used to treat cases that fail non-operative treatment. Traditionally, a procedure called a cheilectomy can be used to remove bone spurs from the top of the big toe joint. This is recommended for mild to moderate cases of hallux rigidus. This is a joint-sparing procedure. Recovery involves walking in a surgical sandal for about 3-4 weeks after the surgery.
For moderate to severe arthritis, a fusion has until recently been the only proven surgical option. This is a joint-sacrificing procedure, in which the bones on either side of the joint are fused together with screws and possibly a plate.
This reliably addresses pain symptoms but eliminates all motion at the joint. Recovery involves a period of non- or heel- weight bearing followed by fully weight bearing in a surgical sandal for 8 weeks or more after the surgery.
A New Surgical Treatment Option
A new option is Cartiva, which can be an alternative to the aforementioned procedures. Cartiva is an organic polymer engineered to match the properties of human cartilage, which is what wears out as arthritis progresses. Your surgeon implants the polymer into the head of the 1st metatarsal, to act as a new joint surface. This is a joint-sparing procedure which retains, and in many cases increases, range of motion.
Recent literature shows greater than 90% patient satisfaction after 5 years of implantation. Recovery is similar to that of cheilectomy, and involves fully weight bearing in a surgical sandal for about 3-4 weeks after the surgery. If the procedure does not resolve pain, a fusion is still a surgical option for you.
Hallux rigidus is a common condition that involves pain, swelling, stiffness and decreased range of motion of the big toe. Diagnosis is often straightforward and involves a clinical examination and x-ray. Several non-operative treatments exist, including NSAIDs, shoe wear modifications, shoe inserts, and injections.
When non-operative treatment fails, surgery is an appropriate option. Cartiva may be an appropriate treatment option to avoid fusion of the big toe. Please see a qualified foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon if you believe you may be a candidate.
Mark Reed, MD is a fellowship-trained foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon who has undergone training on the Cartiva procedure and has incorporated it in his practice. Please contact OSS to schedule an appointment for an in-depth evaluation.