Toe Arthritis Overview
Toe arthritis is caused by inflammation of the toe joint. Arthritis affects the musculoskeletal system and is commonly linked to other toe injuries or problems including infection, tophaceous gout, and trauma (broken toes or sprained toes). Big toe arthritis or great toe arthritis is one of the most common areas affected by this disease.
Two of the most common known forms of this disease are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis of the toe. Osteoarthritis can affect any of the joints in the entire foot, and is especially prone to cause big toe arthritis. The disease causes the toe cartilage to erode leading to stiffness and toe pain. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the entire body and is often hereditary, the disease strikes by causing the arches of the foot to collapse which results in swelling, stiffness throughout the entire foot. The toes often are forced into a contracted position.
Toe Arthritis Causes
Arthritis in the toe can be understood by looking at how the toe joint works. A joint is where two bones meet. The two bones are held together by ligaments that act like rubber bands. Ligaments cause your muscles to relax or flex when the particular joint moves. The area of the bone where the joints meet are covered by cartilage to prevent the bones from rubbing against each other, instead the cartilage lets the bones operate smoothly alongside one another. The entire joint is encapsulated and inside synovoial fluid supplies the joint and cartilage with nutrients and is produce on an ongoing basis by the synovial membrane which lines then entire joint capsule.
Arthritis strikes by impairing one of these above processes. Osteoarthritis in the toe joint results from the cartilage wearing out over time. This leads to spurs (hardened areas) and small sections of the bone marrow to fill with liquid (subchondral cysts) Both the bone erosion and the fluid accumulation can cause toe pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis in the toe happens when a person possesses a hyperactive immune system. The body fails to recognize that the synovial membrane as part of the human body and attacks it. This leads to toe pain as well as swelling.
Toe Arthritis Symptoms
The symptoms of toe arthritis are different of course, but they all share the symptom “toe pain” in common. There are a few general symptoms of arthritis in the toes. Toe joint pain, tenderness and swelling are common. Stiffness, locking or the toe joint clicking are also fairly uniform. The toe joint may even feel warm or appear red.
Symptoms such inflammation in the feet after inactivity is a common indicator of arthritis. If you feel severe discomfort after sitting for long periods of time or after waking up in the morning, arthritis is a possible risk. Another common symptom of toe arthritis is painful soles. Many patients complain that their soles are very tender when walking as if “stepping on rocks”.
Beyond the general indicators, osteoarthritis sufferers who often experience arthritis in the big toe may find the joint extremely stiff and painful to move (if movement is possible). This condition is known as Hallux Rigidus. Those who suspect that have Rheumatoid Arthritis in their toes should look for toe corns or bunion formation. Calluses can also form and the patient may display other symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss or fever.
Toe Arthritis Treatment
Treating toe arthritis generally boils down to two main forms of treatment: surgical or nonsurgical. These can vary depending on the cause and type of toe arthritis. Another important factor is the time when the arthritis was diagnosed and the age of the patient. Some rarer forms of arthritis like psoriatic arthritis (or sausage toe arthritis) don’t have a cure yet and may rely only on medication to ease the pain.
Nonsurgical toe arthritis treatment usually included NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or shoe inserts. Patients are also generally advised to engage in exercise, lose weight and stay healthy. Physical therapy for the toe might also be required or even occupation therapy if the arthritis is more severe. Choosing comfortable footwear is usually a smart choice. Depending on the severity, the podiatrist might also prescribe simple analgesics to control some of the toe pain.
Surgical treatment of toe arthritis is for more sever toe arthritis and generally occurs when the nonsurgical methods aren’t effective or don’t work for the particular variations of the disease. Depending on the type of arthritis, there are typically two form of surgical toe treatment.
The first is toe arthroplasty. This involves the doctor inserting a tiny camera into the toe joint to find the problematic joint. Once the inflamed tissue is seen, any inflamed outgrowths will be removed. This form of surgical treatment is most effective during the beginning stages of toe arthritis.
The second is toe arthrodesis. The doctor will determine which two bones are causing arthritis in the joint and weld the bones together. The joint is replaced with either metal plates or pieces of the patients own bone and then held together with screws and pins. The doctor is in essence replacing the joint with a newer, man made version. Healing from this form of surgery can take anywhere from weeks to over a year.
Toe Arthritis Summary
If you or someone you know have symptoms of toe arthritis catching it early is important. Often the problem can by slowed or halted by healthy lifestyle changes. If surgery is required, anthroplasty is preferred to arthrodesis and can give you more function in the toe joint. Remember that toe arthritis is usually linked to other problems. Uric acid and arthritis are often seen together with the onset of toe gout.
Not all forms of arthritis have treatments. Sausage toe arthritis (psoriatic arthritis) has no clear solution. The most likely toe to be affected is the largest. Big toe arthritis or great toe arthritis can be very painful. Keep healthy habits and be aware.