What is the Hallux?
Our feet do a lot to keep us going. Every part of our lower limbs from the knees and calves, to the ankles and the littles toes play an important role in helping us to walk day to day. The feet, however, undoubtedly play one of the most important parts in this process. Each element of your foot works together to keep you balanced and going on a daily basis.
That being said, being aware of the issues that may affect your feet and toes can go a long way towards helping you to maintain healthy and effective motion throughout life’s ups and downs.
In this blog, we will talk about issues that may plague the “hallux” and what you can do to keep that part of your feet as healthy as possible for as long as you’re moving.
What is the Hallux?
Basically, the “hallux” is just a fancy term for a person’s big toe.
This particular word for the big toe comes from Latin and literally means “great toe”. It stands to reason then that your “greatest” toe plays a pretty vital role in the formation of your entire foot.
The big toe works hard to help maintain balance and allow for effective coordination and movement. The big toes do more heavy lifting than any other toes. In fact, the big toe alone can carry twice as much weight as the rest of the toes combined.
Take a moment and try to stand on your tiptoes without using your big toe, and this fact will become very clear.
Compare this imperfect attempt with the athletic agility of ballet performers who perform on pointe, and it is clear that the big toe is the powerhouse of the foot.
Conditions Related to the Hallux
Because the “hallux” plays such an important role in the functionality of the foot, when something isn’t quite right with your big toe, your entire foot can feel like it is out of commission.
This means that it is imperative that you are capable of recognizing the signs and symptoms of serious issues that may relate to your big toes, especially if you are an athlete or someone with decreased foot and movement health.
Hallux limitus is a sophisticated way of characterizing (primarily) a stiff big toe. This condition can be caused by overuse or injury or may simply be the cause of an unusual foot structure. People who have flat feet may be especially likely to experience hallux limitus.
Because most people do not recognize that they have hallux limitus until they begin to experience pain in the big toe, this condition often goes undiagnosed and untreated until the worst parts of the condition have already set in.
Untreated hallux limitus may inevitably result in arthritis and lifelong pain and complications as a result.
Some additional signs that you may be experiencing hallux limitus include an uneven gate (or limp), an inability to move the big to flex your big toe more than 65 degrees while standing, calluses on the sides of the big toe, or bony protrusions at the top of the big toes.
As far as “cures” are concerned, the primary solution is making sure that you regularly stretch your big toe. Icing and elevating the area is also important (especially if the condition has been caused by an injury).
Special shoe inserts can be provided to help relieve the side effects of hallux limitus. If none of these remedies help to correct the big toe’s stiffness, surgery can be performed to help improve the flexibility of the big toe, or fuse the joints to prevent any motion at all.
Much like hallux limitus, hallux rigidus makes the joint of the big toe stiff. This stiffness is the result of an improperly working joint in the big toe. The primary difference between hallux limitus and hallux rigidus lies in the underlying cause.
Hallux rigidus is a condition that people usually develop over time as a result of the way that their feet or ankles inherently operate or are shaped. People are born with a propensity to have hallux rigidus – Injuries do not cause hallux rigidus.
Hallux rigidus is a form of degenerative arthritis which means that the cartilage between the joints of the big toe is slowly worn down over time.
Some signs that you may be experiencing hallux rigidus may be stiffness, pain or discomfort in your big toes that increases over time and is made worse by cold or damp weather; difficulty with activities like running, squatting, or standing on tiptoes; and swelling or inflammation around the joints of your big toes.
As time goes on, these symptoms may begin to include pain that radiates up to the shins or hips as a result of a modified gate, difficulty wearing shoes, and the development of bone spurs.
Cures for hallux rigidus include shoe modifications, over the counter anti inflammatory medicines, physical therapy, and corticosteroid injections.
Surgery is often necessary if the condition is not managed effectively early on, and maybe inevitable as the condition worsens with age regardless. A qualified podiatrist can help you determine what combination of surgical procedures are appropriate for the severity of your case.
One of the most common conditions related to big toe health is the classic bunion.
Bunions are bony protrusions that form on the bottom, outer edge of the big toes. These protrusions are a result of the bones in the feet moving out of place. This can be a result of wearing uncomfortable shoes, but is most commonly a result of the foot’s natural shape over time and is simply made worse by constricting shoes.
For reasons we are still unsure of (but some assume has something to do with traditional high heel use) women are most likely to be affected by bunions.
Bunions are characterized not only by the large growth on the toe, but also come with calluses, pain around the bunion, big toe stiffness, and limited range of motion in the big toe.
Anti Inflammatory medications, choosing comfortable, well-fitted shoes, ice packs, steroid injections, and bunion pads are nonsurgical treatments for bunions.
Surgical procedures to reconstruct the disformed big toe may be necessary in serious cases. These procedures can take months to recover from and you will need to take extra care to wear supportive, comfortable shoes after the procedure so as not toredevelop the bunions.
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that is not exclusive to the big toe, but mostcommonly occurs in this area.
This extremely painful condition is caused by an increase in uric acid in the blood which causes inflammation in the joints of the big toes. Lifestyle such as diets high in red meat, excessive alcohol use, obesity, and being sedentary all contribute to the likelihood of gout. Contrary to bunions, gout commonly affect men.
Signs and symptoms of gout include pain, heat, redness, and swelling in the big toe. There is no “cure” for gout, and those with the condition will likely experience flare ups throughout most of their life.
Though it can not be cured, gout can be managed by managing the pain of flares and taking preventative measures to prevent flare ups.
Avoiding meat heavy diets, monitoring alcohol intake, losing weight, increasing physical activity, and stopping medications that may cause flares are all effective preventative measures against gout flare ups.
If you should have a flare up, over the counter ibuprofen may work to alleviate the pain, but higher prescription strength anti inflammatory drugs or steroid treatments may be more effective in relieving pain.
A condition that is brought about almost exclusively by sport injuries is turf toe.
As the name implies, this big toe malady is especially common in sports like football that are played on artificial turf. These types of surfaces have less “give” than natural grass and therefore contribute to injuries like turf toe where the foot is aggressively forced into an unnatural position.
Turf toe is basically a severely sprained big toe. When the foot is forcibly hyperextended with the toe pointed upward (like in a sprinter’s start) this can cause the turf toe sprain. This most commonly sport related injury can occur in varying degrees of severity with the mildest form causing mild pain and swelling, and the most severe case resulting in torn ligaments, extreme pain, and difficulty moving the big toe.
Milder forms of turf toe generally just require rest, ice, compression, elevation, and over-the-counter pain medicines as a cure. In more severe cases, walking boots, immobilization, or reconstructive surgery to repair the damaged ligaments and surrounding tissues may be necessary.
Taking Basic Care of Your Hallux
A little bit of care to your most important toe can go a long way to help improve full body health and wellness, and you absolutely do not have to wait until you are diagnosed with bunions or gout to do so.
Making sure that you buy shoes that are supportive and fit well is the primary step to helping maintain big toe (and overall foot) health. Squeezing your feet into unsupportive shoes can cause long term issues with balance and mobility.
Stretching your feet is also a very important process to invest in when considering how to keep your feet (and those great toes) in the best shape possible.
Simple feet stretches to start off your day can do a lot to keep your big toes limber and in proper working condition. Never doubt the benefit of a well performed stretch!
Making sure that you clip your toenails and properly clean and care for your feet can also help with avoiding ingrown toenails and conditions like athlete’s foot (a fungal condition most often occurring between the toes brought on by keeping your feet in sweaty socks and shoes).
No matter how you choose to do so, sectioning out a little time to make sure your big toes are well tended to can go a long way towards helping you to stay on your feet (mobile and in full working order) for as long as possible.
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Disclaimer: The information and other content provided in our blogs, videos, or in any other content or linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For a full disclaimer, please click here.