What is Hallux Limitus?

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  • Written By: Archana Khambekar
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 08 January 2020
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Hallux limitus is a condition that can afflict the big toe. It is characterized by decreased range of motion of the big toe. Pain and limited upward or downward movement of the big toe are among the typical symptoms. The usual treatment course for the condition includes anti-inflammatory medication, and physiotherapy. Wearing foot orthotics may help prevent further damage to the big toe joint. Surgery might be recommended in some cases.

One may experience pain from activities like walking, develop swelling, and stiffness of the big toe. Hallux limitus can affect the normal functioning of the foot and alter a person’s gait. Painful protuberances of the bone, or bone spurs as they are called, might form on the top of the big toe joint if the condition is not treated. Hallux limitus may progress to hallux rigidus, where the ability to move the joint is lost, and the big toe becomes rigid.


A person may suffer from hallux limitus if one is born with an inherent defect of the foot such as, a misalignment or malformation of a bone about the big toe joint. It could also be caused by wear and tear of the joint cartilage due to repetitive injuries. The problem could develop if the big toe is subjected to too much pressure chronically from habits such as wearing shoes that are constrictive, for instance. Sometimes, arthritis affects the big toe joint, hence hallux limitus is considered to be an arthritic condition.

One may consult a doctor in orthopedics or a podiatrist for a diagnosis. To diagnose hallux limitus the doctor generally conducts a physical examination of the foot, evaluates the range of motion of the toe joint, and considers the symptoms experienced. An X-ray may be called for to view the big toe joint, assess decrease in joint space, and detect bone spurs that may have formed.

For patients who suffer from hallux limitus doctors usually prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to relieve symptoms. Sometimes, corticosteroid injections are given to lessen joint inflammation. A doctor may suggest physical therapy to reduce stiffness and improve the range of motion of the toe joint.

Wearing footwear that is wide at the toes, and which has a firmer sole can help. Orthotic devices that can be worn with one’s shoes may ease the pressure on the big toe, and aid in stabilizing the joint. One may be advised to avoid strenuous activities until painful symptoms subside.

Surgery could be prescribed in case symptoms don’t improve, or the condition significantly affects the individual’s activity level. It may also be recommended if there is considerable spurring around the joint. There are various surgical options that include procedures to realign the big toe joint or take out a bone spur. Typically, the surgeon considers the underlying cause of hallux limitus and the severity of the condition when deciding on the procedure to be performed.



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