Harvard Women's Health Watch

Big toe got you down? It may be hallux rigidus.

A stiff and painful big toe can knock you off your feet. Here's what you can do about it.

The big toe may be small, but its role in our lives is enormous. Just imagine how hard it would be to walk, run, squat, bend over, rise up on the balls of the feet, or simply keep your balance without the aid of your big toes.

A crucial element of big-toe function is the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, which joins the first long bone (metatarsal) in the forefoot to the first bone of the big toe (phalanx). Every time you take a step, the MTP joint bends, allowing the foot to roll forward and push off. During this phase of the walking cycle, the joint supports 50% of the body's weight. If the joint doesn't function properly, not only walking, but also exercising and many other activities of daily life can be difficult, sometimes impossible. One of the most common ailments of the big toe joint is hallux rigidus — literally, "stiff big toe."

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