An estimated 54.4 million American adults were told they had some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus or fibromyalgia between 2013 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1).
Arthritis can affect any part of the body where joints exist and your toes are not an exception. In fact, toe arthritis is very common and many people suffer from this painful problem.
In most cases, toe arthritis attacks the big toe, but the other toes could be affected as well. Big toe arthritis, also known as hallux limitus or hallux rigidus, occurs when the big toe moves upward or begins to form bone spurs, which limits the range of motion of the toe.
Your risk of big toe arthritis increases as you age. This is mostly due to wear and tear. The risk is also higher if you have a family history of it or if you are obese.
Big toe arthritis usually starts with a stiffness of the joint and can be accompanied by swelling and redness. Other symptoms include enlargement of the joint, pain, difficulty wearing certain shoes, difficulty walking (especially when you first wake up in the morning), associated deformity, and soft tissue irritation or inflammation.
It is not at all unusual for patients to confuse bunions with big toe arthritis because both conditions can cause pain and a bump and enlargement at the big toe joint. But they are actually very different.
Big toe arthritis is easier to treat when the condition is diagnosed early. There are many simple, natural home remedies to treat this problem and reduce the discomforts.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for big toe arthritis.
1. Contrast Hydrotherapy
Both cold and warm water treatments, popularly known as hydrotherapy, can help reduce the discomforts of big toe arthritis.
While the warm water helps improve blood circulation in the affected area, the cold water helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Fill 2 small tubs – one with cold water and the other with warm water.
- First, soak the affected toe in warm water for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Then, put the toe in the cold water for 1 minute.
- Continue alternating steps 2 and 3 for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Repeat the treatment 3 or 4 times daily until you get relief.
Caution: Be careful to avoid extreme temperatures in the water.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is useful in relieving joint pain in the big toe due to arthritis. It helps remove the buildup of toxins in the joints and connective tissues, which is important to ease any kind of arthritic pain.
It also has anti-inflammatory and alkaline-forming properties that help reduce pain and stiffness in the joints.
- Mix equal amounts of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and lukewarm water in a foot tub. Soak your big toe in this solution for 30 minutes. When done, dry your foot thoroughly. Do it twice daily to notice an improvement in the pain and swelling.
- Also, mix 1 teaspoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar into a glass of warm water and add a little honey. Drink it twice daily.
3. Warm Oil Massage
Massaging the arthritis-affected big toe with some warm oil is another effective way to reduce the pain and inflammation.
Massage improves blood circulation and also encourages toxin drainage to reduce swelling.
- Warm up some olive or coconut oil in the microwave.
- Dab the warm oil on the affected area.
- Using your fingers, do deep-friction massage for 10 minutes.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times daily.
Caution: If massaging causes more pain, stop doing it and consult a doctor.
4. Cayenne Pepper
To deal with any kind of arthritic pain, cayenne pepper is very effective.
It contains the compound capsaicin, which has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that help get rid of the pain and treat big toe arthritis.
Cayenne pepper may initially cause a burning sensation, but it will go away quickly.
- Add ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder to 1 tablespoon of lukewarm coconut oil. Mix thoroughly, then apply it on the affected toe. Allow it to sit for 20 minutes. Rinse it off with lukewarm water. Do this 2 or 3 times a day.
- Alternatively, you can apply a capsaicin cream to the affected area daily.
Another common ingredient that can help treat arthritis in your big toe is ginger, which has natural anti-inflammatory properties.
Moreover, ginger helps block COX-2, a chemical in the body that causes pain.
- Drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea daily. To make the tea, grate a small piece of ginger root and boil it in a cup of water for 10 minutes. Strain it and add a little honey.
- Also, you can massage the affected area 2 or 3 times a day with ginger oil to help reduce pain, inflammation, and stiffness.
Turmeric is also effective for treating big toe arthritis. The compound curcumin in turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce inflammation and pain.
- For external use, mix a little olive oil and ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder to form a paste. Apply it on your big toe and cover it with a bandage for a couple of hours. Do it 2 or 3 times daily for several days.
- To promote internal healing, dissolve 1 teaspoon of turmeric in a glass of lukewarm water. Drink it twice daily to ease inflammation.
- Alternatively, you can take curcumin capsules, after consulting your doctor for the proper dosage.
Caution: Avoid consuming too much turmeric if you take blood-thinning medications or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Acupuncture is very effective at easing the pain and other discomforts associated with big toe arthritis.
In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted in and around the big toe to relieve pain. This treatment can also promote mobility.
It is best to have acupuncture done by an expert who specializes in it. It may take a few sessions to reduce the pain and improve the mobility of your big toe.
8. Healthy Weight
Extra body weight adds stress to the bones in your feet and can lead to increased pain and inflammation associated with big toe arthritis.
Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent your joints from experiencing extra stress, thereby lessening the pain, improving joint functioning and reducing inflammation in the body. Fat itself is an active tissue that creates and releases pro-inflammatory chemicals.
If you are overweight, you must try to lose some weight. It is important to keep in mind that losing weight is not a race. Avoid crash diets. Instead, strive to lose weight by adopting a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine.
Regular exercise helps strengthen your bones and joints, including those in your toes. Exercise also keeps your joints limber and helps get rid of swollen feet.
Furthermore, exercise promotes better circulation, which in turn helps relieve inflammation and pain associated with big toe arthritis. It also improves mobility.
- Do aerobic exercises like walking, biking or swimming for 30 minutes, 5 days a week.
- Do gentle weight training and resistance training a few times a week to build stronger muscles.
- Do range-of-motion exercises at least 30 minutes daily.
10. Proper Footwear
Last but not least, you must wear the right footwear to treat big toe arthritis. Poorly fitting shoes can lead to more swelling and pain in the affected area.
Choosing the right footwear can make a big difference. Wear properly fitted shoes that have plenty of room for your big toes.
If needed, wear a shoe with a large toe box to reduce pressure on the toe. Getting a stiff-soled shoe with a rocker or roller bottom design can also be beneficial, as such shoes help reduce the amount of bending in the big toes.
High heels, tight shoes, and pointy-toed shoes should be avoided at any cost. Also, do not wear tight-fitting socks or stockings.
- Exercise daily to keep the joint mobile and active.
- If the toe is too painful, avoid walking around and get some rest.
- You can take painkillers to relieve the discomfort, but do not take them long term without seeking your doctor’s advice.
- Avoid ballet dancing and other activities that require constrictive shoes.
- To reduce swelling, elevate your legs so that they are above the level of your heart.
- Limit your salt and caffeine intake, as they can aggravate the condition.
- To curb pain and inflammation, include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated and promote detoxification.
- If you have Type 2 diabetes, maintaining a stable blood sugar level can reduce the risk of big toe arthritis.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Hai-En Peng (Podiatrist)
Can big toe arthritis lead to numbness in the feet?
It can, if the bone spurring from the arthritis is significant enough to press on the surrounding nerves.
Is walking good for people with big toe arthritis?
It can be to warm up the joint if the arthritis is minimal but there will come a point where even walking and other activities will become painful as the arthritis worsens.
Can big toe arthritis cause any deformity?
Yes it can. It can cause spurring on top and the side of the foot making it hard to fit shoes. It can also cause the toe to become deformed pressing against other toes. If the arthritis is really severe, it can cause the great toe joint to not move and any micro motion of that degenerative joint causes severe pain.
What is the best way to stop the progression of arthritis from big toe to other toes?
Things that can help are custom molded orthotics, good fitting shoes, and NSAIDs. If the arthritis is already affecting other joints, a referral to rheumatology can help with systemic management of arthritis limiting its severity.
Is banana beneficial for people suffering from arthritis?
I haven’t personally seen banana consumption helping symptoms of arthritis. Bananas are a rich source of potassium and fiber, and good for people suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular, and digestive issues.
Bananas are also good for maintaining electrolytes, which prevents muscle cramping. It also has good sugar content to help if you have low blood sugar. It is very important to increase your intake of antioxidants that can reduce the inflammation from arthritis. A healthy dose of vitamins A, C, and E can limit joint destruction.
What food items can worsen arthritis symptoms?
Foods that contain a high content of sugar, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates can increase inflammation associated with arthritis and can worsen your symptoms.
Please provide some additional tips and ways to our readers on how to prevent and treat big toe arthritis.
Big toe joint arthritis can happen either 1 of 2 ways. It’s either due to how your feet is built via genetics that causes undue pressure on the big toe joint causing it to breakdown prematurely leading to arthritis. The other cause is you have an injury to the great toe joint causing it to heal unnaturally leading the joint to function poorly which in turns leads to arthritis.
Treatments available conservatively include icing, NSAIDs, cortisone injections, HA injections, PRP injections, good fitting shoes, and custom orthotics. When those modalities fail, surgery is often needed to remove the spurring around the joint.
At times the joint may need to replaced with implants called Cartiva or replaced fully with titanium components for the base of the great toe and the head of the metatarsal. If the implant fails to remove the pain from arthritis, a salvage procedure known as fusion is often done to eliminate movement of the great toe joint which eliminates the pain.
About Dr. Hai-En Peng, Podiatrist: Dr. Peng was born in Nyack, NY and went to California College of Podiatric Medicine in San Francisco, CA. He spent the next 4 years there and graduated in the top 15% of his class. Dr. Peng also completed a 3-year advanced surgical residency in reconstructive foot and ankle surgery.