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Open

Mon – Fri: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sat: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Sun: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Book Appointment

Sign Up for an Appointment

Our simple to use, online booking process makes it easy to book an appointment with a chiropodist for any of our services. No referral needed!
Book Appointment

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Our simple to use, online booking process makes it easy to book an appointment with a chiropodist for any of our services. No referral needed!

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Hallux Rigidus or Bunions: What’s The Difference?

If you have a lump on your big toe, you may be wondering whether it’s a Bunion or Hallux Rigidus. Both foot conditions affect the big toe and are bony outgrowths that are progressive conditions that get worse over time if not properly treated. The two conditions are also characterized by bumps on the big toe and can prove to be painful when wearing improper footwear.

Although hallux rigidus and Bunions affect the same joints, the two are quite different and require different treatment. And because our toes are the foundation of our legs, and bodies, proper treatment is essential. For one, you will prolong the joint. And second, proper treatment helps prevent other conditions that can result from compensation.

The most common distinction is where the bony outgrowth can be seen. Hallux rigidus is characterized by a bump on the top of the toe. A Bunion is an outgrowth along the edge of the big toe.

What is Hallux Rigidus?

Overview

Hallux rigidus gets its name from hallux, or big toe, and rigidus, which translates to stiff. In the simplest terms, hallux rigidus is a stiff big toe.

Hallux rigidus develops as a result of Osteoarthritis. As the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint breaks down over time, often due to repetitive use, the body responds by creating bone growth as a defence mechanism. As the area becomes increasingly crowded with bony outgrowth, one loses flexibility in their big toe, and the condition worsens as the first long bone (metatarsal) in the forefoot begins to rub against the first bone of the big toe. The bony outgrowth is known as osteophyte. In other words, a bone spur.

Hallux Rigidus
Osteophyte on top of the left metatarsophalangeal joint (MTPJ) due to hallux rigidus.

This area is particularly prone to Osteoarthritis and foot conditions because of the amount of weight the joint bears. As Harvard Medical School puts it, “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.” Yes, 50%.

As the joint stiffens, and your toes lose flexibility, walking, and any other form of weight-bearing exercise for that matter becomes increasingly difficult.

Causes

This condition typically takes many years to develop. In its early stages, you may simply experience a tight big toe, or occasional pain when exercising. Alternatively, hallux rigidus can also develop after trauma to the joint. For example, stubbing your toe repeatedly, and not treating the injury, will contribute to joint decay over time. In fact, many professional athletes experience some form of hallux rigidus, either as a direct result of turf toe or because of years of intensive activity.

NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal is one such example, though he suffered from bone spurs in his little toes. Ballet dancers, thanks for the fact that they are routinely on their tiptoes, are also particularly prone to hallux rigidus.

Finally, hereditary defects and faulty foot mechanics can place additional stress on the joint, triggering arthritis.

Not all toe stiffness is the same. Minor joint stiffness is hallux limitus. Those with the condition have more flexibility and range of motion than those with rigidus, and bone spurs may also be absent. However, without the proper treatment, or ignoring it all together, the condition can quickly worsen. Unlike other injuries that you can injure, hallux rigidus is a progressive, and permanent condition.

Treatment

However, those with hallux rigidus can offset the limits of their big toe in ways to enhance their daily lives. Physical therapy, proper Orthotics, avoiding aggravating exercise, and strengthening the surrounding muscles that relieve pressure on the joint can all improve quality of life. More invasive options include surgery, including fusing the two bones, and a Cheilectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove excess bone from the joint of your big toe.

You can read more about hallux rigidus and Bone Spurs here.

What is a Bunion?

Overview

Bunions, like hallux rigidus, affect the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, which are the links between your foot and toes.

To make things confusing, the condition is actually known as Hallux Valgus. (Another ‘hallux’ term.)

Bunions occur when the first metatarsal bone of the foot turns outward and the big toe points inward, according to Harvard Health. Unlike hallux rigidus, hallux valgus is the result of your bones shifting, with the resulting protrusion going outwards, and not upwards like with hallux rigidus’s osteophyte.

Hallux valgus, bunion in woman foot on white background
Hallux valgus, or a bunion, with a bump on the left big toe.

There are Several Phases of bunions. To start, a small bump may appear on the outer edge of the foot. Over time, and if the bunion gets worse, the bump will grow, and the big toe will increasingly point inwards, sometimes crossing over your other toes.

Causes

Often, Bunions are the result of narrow-fitting shoes, which can force the big toe inward, scrunching all five toes together. High heels are one example. (In fact, bunions are 10 times more common in women than in men.)

Ill-fitting shoes are however just one of many causes. Genetics can also pass on bunions through generations.  Additionally, your foot type can be a factor.

Treatment

Treatment and preventative measures include finding the Right Shoe, to reduce risks of Bunions from forming in the first place. However, like hallux rigidus, Bunions are a progressive foot condition. Surgery is necessary to actually remove a bunion. But, physical therapy and over-the-counter products can certainly reduce the need for surgery as generally non-invasive options are best.

Conservative Bunion management includes Custom Foot Orthotics, splints, bunions guards, toe separators, and Foot Exercises. For additional treatment options, read our blog on Effective Ways of Treating Bunion Pain.

Are you confused about whether you have hallux rigidus or a Bunion?

Book an appointment with a chiropodist at Feet First Clinic today for a professional diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

Here’s to Many More Years of Foot Care!

At Feet First Clinic, we’re always excited to welcome new clients! After a successful 12 years of treating our amazing patients, we’re ready to continue offering only the best foot care services and products. Give us a call to ask our friendly staff any questions you may have! Our Toronto foot specialists are ready to help!

Call us at 416-769-3338 or Book Your Assessment Today!

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Emily

Administrative Assistant

Emily is the newest addition to the Feet First family. She assists with the clinic’s accounting and finances, as well as all the behind-the-scenes work that keeps the clinic running smoothly. In addition to her accounting smarts, she brings sunshine and positivity to everyone at Feet First Clinic.

Erica Halpern

Marketing and Administrative Assistant (She/Her)

Part of our administrative support staff, Erica also works behind the scenes writing and editing content for our website and blog. She loves researching and writing educational content to help patients and anyone dealing with pain. When she’s not busy in the clinic, you’ll find her at her local gym, exploring underground music, hiking with friends, or cheering on her favourite sports teams (Go Jays!). She also loves huskies!

Sophie Rudahigan

Clinic Administrator (She/Her)
Sophie prides herself on providing top-tier customer service. She is here to ensure a smooth visit for all clients. In addition to overseeing the clinic’s administration and day-to-day operations, she maintains the cosmetic appearance of the store. She is the magic behind our elaborate display case designs and also ensures the clinic is stocked with stylish (but still orthopedic!) footwear options for all ages.

Bianca Carter

CEO (She/Her)

Day in and out, Bianca works hard to ensure Feet First Clinic runs smoothly. Customer service is at the top of her list and she treats every customer like family. Bianca has a passion for fitness and is dedicated to helping people take care of their feet and body. There is no problem that she can’t solve and she believes that where there is a will, there’s a way.

Carolina Charles

Patient Relation Coordinator (She/Her)

If you’ve been to the clinic before, chances are you had the pleasure of meeting Carolina! Carolina’s daily goal is going above and beyond to make sure patients are always completely satisfied. Having worked in the podiatry industry for 22 years, Carolina brings a wealth of knowledge pertaining to client service, insurance policies, and procedures.​ She steers the ship to make sure everything runs smoothly on the daily. Carolina is known for spicing up every outfit with her signature costume jewellery.