Toe osteoarthritis – causes, diagnosis, and treatment
Overview of osteoarthritis in the toes
Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that produces age-related changes in the cartilage in your joints and can cause considerable discomfort. All joints in our bodies have cartilage to help them slide against each other more easily. Cartilage wears down gradually, and this can cause pain and stiffness (while you are moving your joints and afterwards). With toe osteoarthritis, there is no treatment available to cure it, but it is possible to reduce the discomfort.
It is important to begin treatment early in order to reduce the symptoms from the affected joint. For example, you can start a training program with different exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joint. This is offered across Sweden in different osteoarthritis classes, but it is also possible to contact a physiotherapist directly.
Signs of toe osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis in the toes or feet almost always starts with pain as the main symptom. This is usually felt in the base joint of the big toe, but it is also common in the other toes. You may feel a certain amount of stiffness, which can come on gradually at the same time as the aching feeling. Other symptoms of osteoarthritis in the toes include:
● Pain when you put pressure on your foot (for example when walking)
● Stiffness in your toes which is mainly felt when you are taking a step when walking
● Recurring swelling in your toes
● Pain at rest (i.e. pain even when you are sitting down or sleeping)
If you recognize these symptoms in yourself and you want to know the cause, you should see a doctor or physiotherapist.
Causes of osteoarthritis in the toes
Osteoarthritis in the toes can affect anyone, but it is most common in people aged 50 and above. The cause of the disease is not yet clear but in many cases excess strain of different kinds plays a significant role. For example, individuals who have carried out particularly heavy physical work with high levels of strain are in the risk zone. People who are overweight or elite athletes are also at risk. Osteoarthritis in the big toe and other toes are common injuries in runners. This is not particularly surprising because runners subject their feet to long-term and severe strain. So if you like running and want to avoid osteoarthritis, it is important that your gait is a correct as possible.
Diagnosing osteoarthritis in the toes
Diagnosing osteoarthritis should be done by a general physician, physiotherapist or orthopedic specialist. They can look at the symptoms, previous medical history and how well the joints are working.
X-rays can be used to see the progress of the disease and the level of change in the cartilage, but osteoarthritis is primarily a clinical diagnosis. It is also difficult to evaluate the changes in the cartilage in relation to the symptoms on an X-ray. For example, the sufferer may feel both pain and stiffness, but the X-ray plates show little or no change. As a result, an X-ray is not a good way of diagnosing osteoarthritis because the changes show up at a late stage and do not relate to the symptoms.
Treating osteoarthritis in the toes
Osteoarthritis in the toes or osteoarthritis in the feet affect mobility differently for everyone and can be restrictive for someone who is used to being physically active. Most forms of osteoarthritis improve if the person affected carries out some form of physical activity. This may sound slightly contradictory, as many runners suffer from osteoarthritis and they are physically active. Correct training exercises carried out in the right way provide long-term relief of symptoms and improved life for many osteoarthritis sufferers. The problem with osteoarthritis in the toes, however, is that it is often extremely painful to exercise as the strain and the movement are specifically on the feet. The good news is that movement does not exacerbate the problem, even if it hurts.
Other treatment methods for osteoarthritis in the toes
If you are affected by osteoarthritis, it is important to recognize that it is a disease that can’t be cured, however most people with it can find strategies to reduce the pain and the discomfort that it causes.
There are several aids that can help. For example, good shoes with a thick sole that is slightly stiffer offer support and help prevent your joints from moving too much. If necessary, you can also find help by having a specially adapted sole made, known as a rocker sole. This allows you to rock as you step forward without having to bend the joint of your big toe. If you are suffering from severe pain caused by osteoarthritis in the toes, a cane or another aid may help. For milder symptoms, temporary pain relief may also be found in the form of pain relief tablets. Cortisone injections in the joint of the big toe will also only provide temporary relief.
If the recommended treatment methods don’t work, there is a last resort in the form of an operation. There are many different operation methods to choose from depending on how advanced the osteoarthritis is. An orthopedic specialist will recommend the most appropriate operation based on the clinical examination and X-ray findings.