How to Help a Bent Big Toe

by Chris Centeno, MD /

As we age, the big toe can actually begin to bend sideways. You may not visually notice it at first, but as it gradually worsens, not only will the bend become obvious, but how the foot functions may change. In fact, up until this point, you may not even realize how much work your big toe really does. You may experience pain in the big toe, discomfort in certain shoes, and even trouble with pushing off (a main function of your big toe) when you walk. The foot or ankle may even become stressed as they attempt to compensate for the disrupted function in the big toe. So what causes a bent big toe, and what can you do about it?

What Causes a Bent Big Toe?

The medical term for a bent big toe is hallux valgus, and it is an early sign of arthritis setting into the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint at the base of the big toe. It’s best to address it as soon as possible, not only to address discomfort but also to try to head arthritis off at the pass, before it advances and causes serious trouble. Why? If you let it go long enough, it will lead to hallux rigidus, which means that the toe becomes so arthritic that it gets locked in one position and can’t bend.

Standard Treatments for Pain and Arthritis in the Big Toe

When arthritis in the big toe advances to the point of hallux rigidus, unfortunately, orthopedic surgeons like to operate. One drastic surgery to the big toe is an MTP-joint fusion, which involves placing screws across the joint to fuse it solid. Just like a back fusion leads to disease in the adjacent segments, a big toe fusion causes problems in the ankle and other toe joints as they have to bear the extra load.

Other treatments you might be presented with for pain from a bent big toe include steroid shots or pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids. These, too, are bad news. Steroid shots have been shown to destroy local cartilage in the joint (which can only progress arthritis) while providing no significant pain improvement. NSAIDs come with a long and growing list of dangerous side effects, such as sudden-death heart attacks, stroke, and GI bleeding, and addiction and overdose due to prescription opioids have reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.

How to Help a Bent Big Toe

So how do you help a bent big toe before arthritis fully sets in? First, make sure your shoes aren’t wearing too much on the outside. If they are, your foot isn’t hitting the ground correctly, and that could be causing forces which have bent the big toe joint. The solution to this is to get orthotics to help redistribute the forces properly as your foot strikes the ground. Second, avoid high heels, pointy-toed shoes, and other shoes that force or reinforce that big toe into a bent position. Third, you can use a toe straightener—yes, such a thing really exists—when you sleep. There are many brands on the market, and they can help to gradually and gently realign a bent big toe.

In the meantime, if you also have pain, the supplements chondroitin and glucosamine have been shown to be effective pain relievers, and they preserve cartilage. Curcumin can also relieve pain from arthritis. If the bent big toe pain still won’t go away, consider a high-dose PRP or a stem cell injection.

The upshot? The best solution for helping a bent big toe is don’t procrastinate. Address it early and treat it quickly! Once arthritis sets in and advances, it creates a more challenging problem to deal with. Additionally, that bent big toe can put more stress on the surrounding structures and even disrupt body symmetry, leading to more problems elsewhere.

Category: Foot

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6 thoughts on “How to Help a Bent Big Toe

  1. Beate Kaufman

    Can you get stem cell for your big toe if it is bone on bone?

    1. Chris Centeno Post author

      I would need an exam to ferret out whether this would help you.

  2. Stephen Bowser

    Hi, I was diagnosed about a year ago with Hallux rigidus. I was recommended surgery which I declined and got a prp injection from another doctor. I’d say the symptoms have improved with less inflammation and pain but there is still pain present after running activities and the range of motion is still limited compared to my other big toe. I’m curious if you have any ideas on where I should go from here. Is there a non surgical treatment to remove the bone spur that’s has formed? Is it worth considering having a second prp injection? Any help or recommendations would be incredibly appreciated. Thanks!!

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Stephen,
      We really can’t say as not all PRP is the same, and successful treatment depends on accurate diagnosis both of the symptoms and the cause. We’d need to examine you to advise.

      1. Stephen

        Ok, that makes sense. I read a different article on your website regarding barbotage for treating an ankle bone spur. Have you ever seen this treatment used for hallux rigidus?

        1. Regenexx Team Post author

          Stephen,
          It depends on the bone spur. We’d need more information and to see your imaging through the Candidacy process. To do that, please submit the candidate form to the right of the Blog, or call 855 622 7838

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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