Hallux Limitus

Hallux limitus is an injury involving stiffening, decreased movement and pain in the big toe joint (bunion joint). It can be a relatively minor or severe condition depending on the underlying cause. The condition gets progressively worse over time and often affects athletes suffering from another injury to the area.


Due to the restriction in motion that hallux limitus causes, with the big toe less able to move upwards without causing pain, everyday and sporting activities such as sprinting, walking uphill and walking can all ultimately cause pain. The amount of pain may increase as the injury worsens, as can the number of less strenuous movements (i.e. walking) that are affected by pain. Often this is accompanied by swelling around the joint. You might be able to feel a collection of bone spurs near the site of the injury where the toe joint is colliding with the first metatarsal. The pain of the injury regularly leads to secondary symptoms including the sufferer walking with their weight distributed to the side of their foot, and calluses accumulating.


The causes are varied, but any existing toe injury can be a significant factor. Conditions particularly affecting the big toe joint, such as fractures or breakages, can provoke hallux limitus, as can an infection. Serious prior conditions that often cause the injury include osteoarthritis and gout. Frequent injury to the area increases the risks due to the possibility of gradual degeneration of important cartilage. Hallux limitus can also be caused by a single instance (or repeated instances) of hard impact to the foot from a severe kick or blow, or a heavy object. This is especially relevant to sportspeople who are liable to such injuries. Another factor is age, as the joint weakens as we get older. Men typically sustain the injury more often than women.


Talk to a doctor who will then perform a physical exam and diagnose the condition. This can require the use of an x-ray to assess the extent of the damage, which will allow the doctor to recommend suitable treatment. Milder forms of the injury can often be treated medically with injections, while more severe injuries may necessitate surgery to remove the problem. The most major injuries can demand serious surgery like joint replacement or fusion.

During the treatment and recovery process it is necessary to rest the joint appropriately so as not to exacerbate the injury and to allow it time to heal. Discuss gradual return to activity with a doctor or physical therapist, and to maintain fitness in the meantime try to replace foot exercise with upper body training.


As previously mentioned, the injury has many causes. However you can decrease your risks of suffering from impacts to the big toe joint by wearing protective footwear for certain sports, such as football boots, or wearing safety boots if your job involves heavy items.

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