Pain in the joints is a common condition, especially among people who are physically active and participate in some sports activity. Their bones and muscles become stiffer in time. Joint pain is also typical among elderly people, as bones become more fragile and brittle with time, as well as among people who spend a lot of their time sitting. Pain in the big toe joint is more common than people think and it could be due to the aforementioned causes but also due to many other conditions. Here we will take a look at some of the most usual ones.
Conditions which cause big toe joint pain, their causes and symptoms and how to treat them
Gout is a painful inflammatory condition of the joints, a kind of acute arthritis which is most common in men and also women after the menopause. It is caused by uric acid crystals being deposited in the joints. The joint becomes inflamed and painful. If you are obese, have high blood pressure and/or diabetes or kidney problems, you are more likely to get gout.
This condition usually affects joints towards the ends of the limbs, such as the toes, ankles, knees and fingers. Excruciating pain in the big toe joint is a warning sign of an upcoming gout attack. Other symptoms include redness and swelling over and around the joint, a burning sensation and tenderness. These symptoms develop quite rapidly and could last up to ten days. Gout attacks typically occur at night but can happen at any given time. They always come back and it is not easy to predict when exactly. Always contact your GP if you have fever and the pain keeps getting worse. The ways of treating the painful condition called gout are not only limited to the moment when you experience an attack. Maintaining a healthier lifestyle is very important to minimize the risk of suffering from gout. This includes a healthy diet, drinking lots of water but less alcohol and taking regular exercise that does not put too much pressure on the joints. During an attack, what you can do is rest, make sure to keep the joint cool and take your prescribed pills. Always listen to your GP’s advice and do not take any medication that has not been approved.
Hallux rigidus (degenerative arthritis)
This condition is more commonly known as degenerative arthritis. Its name Hallux rigidus indicates that it affects the joint at the base of the big toe which becomes rigid and stiff over time, thus preventing us from walking without pain and difficulty. This progressive condition is at first known as Hallux limitus, when the movement of the big toe joint is just slightly limited but it gradually becomes worse, that is, it gets harder and harder for the joint to move. Hallux rigidus is the result of a bone overgrowth that can develop due to joint wear-and-tear or an injury.
People who are more prone to developing this condition are elderly people but it is also common among people with structural foot abnormalities such as fallen arches, people who have a family history of such conditions and also those who already have an inflammatory joint decease such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms other than pain and stiffness in the joint during use (when the condition gets more serious pain is experienced even during rest) include swelling, a bump that grows on the top of the foot, and difficulty wearing shoes when the condition has developed. Treatment for this condition could either be surgical or non-surgical. Non-surgical treatment (for mild or moderate cases) involves the use of medications such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen); special orthopedic footwear that put less pressure on the big toe; corticosteroid injections; and last but not least physiotherapy. Surgery is needed when the problem is severe and non-surgical treatment does not improve the patient’s condition. The type of surgery depends on factors such as age, level of deformity of the foot and others.
Turf toe is a condition that manifests itself in a spot at the base of the big toe. Sports athletes (basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, etc.) are among the groups that are most likely to develop this condition, even though it is commonly associated with football players (as they are playing on artificial turf). With turf toe, there is a sudden injury to the area around the toe joint, a sprain of the ligaments that surround it, which could occur if you fall forward and your toe stays flat or if your foot does not lift to shift the energy to your other foot. This can happen on artificial surfaces and not wearing shoes that provide the right amount of support can greatly increase the risk of an injury. Except for pain, the symptoms of turf toe include swelling and limited joint movement. Usually, the entire joint is involved, and the symptoms get worse over time. Again, treatment for this condition can either be surgical or non-surgical. Surgery is only needed when the case is more severe. Non-surgical treatment involves oral medication to relieve pain and swelling such as ibuprofen; rest for the toe and the joint that could include immobilizing the foot in a cast; and at times physical therapy to restore the strength and range of motion of the toe. A good way to prevent turf toe is by wearing shoes with better support to prevent the toe joint from bending too much. Consider seeking the advice of a physical therapist to correct any gait irregularities that can lead to a toe injury.
Bunions (Hallus abducto valgus)
A bunion is a usual foot deformity. It does not only consist of a bump at the side of the big toe, as many people believe. Actually, the bump is only the visual representation of the actual condition, which is a progressive disorder, changing the angle of the bones of the foot. With time, the big toe starts leaning more and more towards the second toe thus producing the visible bump. Certain faulty foot types that are inherited most usually make a person more susceptible to bunions. This condition may not have symptoms but when it does, they include pain, redness, possible numbness and soreness. Women are more likely to have symptoms as wearing high heels and/or shoes that are tight at the toes may aggravate the condition. As was with the previous conditions we discussed, here we can also choose between a non-surgical and surgical treatment of bunions. Surgery is discussed only when non-surgical treatment fails to alleviate the pain and it hinders daily activities. The different procedures are meant to remove the visible bump, correct the irregularities that have occurred in the bony structure of the foot, and also correct possible soft tissue modifications. Non-surgical treatment has to soothe the pain but it is not meant to reverse the deformity. It includes taking prescribed medications; avoiding activities that cause bunion pain; choosing shoes that have enough space for the toes to rest without being pressed; as well as taking corticosteroid injections when needed.
As you saw, pain in the big toe joint could develop due to a number of conditions. It can be controlled with enough care and the right kind of therapy. One has to know that it is very important to wear comfortable shoes, do enough exercise and always look for the professional advice of their GP and read appropriate literature on the issue to avoid complications that may have a serious impact on daily life activities.