Hallux limitus and hallux rigidus are two often confused conditions that affect the big toe. Hallux limitus means that your big toe is inflamed and stiff, which causes limited movement, while the more extreme hallux rigidus means that the joint can hardly move at all. Hallux limitus often advances into hallux rigidus when left untreated. 

Although causes for both can vary, contributing factors include wear and tear, genetics, inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and sometimes injuries. Both can cause pain and discomfort, as well as difficulty walking, and they usually get worse over time. 

Fortunately, if you're suffering from either condition, there's relief available. Keep reading to learn four conservative treatments that will help hallux limitus and hallux rigidus.

1. Aligning the Big Toe With a Toe Separator

If the big toe isn't aligned properly, it can worsen hallux limitus and hallux rigidus. Toe separators that are placed between the big toe and the rest of the toes can help to realign your big toe and stretch its joints, alleviating pain and pressure.

Toe separators come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. While the most important thing is a product that works on your big toe, separators that span across all your toes will work as well. You can usually find them at your local drug store or online.

2. Naturally Shaped Footwear

Many painful conditions of the toes and feet can be exacerbated by tight, ill-fitting shoes, and hallux limitus and rigidus are no different. Most popular modern shoes squeeze your toes together, which puts pressure on your joints and can aggravate existing inflammation and irritation. Natural shoes solves this problem with shoes that let your feet rest in their natural positions.

For issues with the big toe, you should aim for shoes that have a stiff sole with soft upper material. This will provide your toe with the support it needs while reducing pressure on the toe joint that restricts it from moving properly. 

3. Daily Stretches

Stretches that target the toe extensor muscles and the muscles around the foot can help improve flexibility and reduce pain. This is especially true for the hallucis longus muscles and other muscles that directly connect to your big toe.

An easy toe extensor stretch can be done by pointing or pulling your toes down toward the floor for 20 to 30 seconds. If it is difficult to do this with your big toe, start by holding your big toe in place and stretching the rest of your toes. Another great stretch for hallux limitus and rigidus is the bunion stretch. This is done by gently pulling your big toe forward and to the side, away from your other toes, while using your other hand to press and massage between the first and second metatarsal bone.

4. Topical Pain Relievers

There are a number of topical pain relievers available that can be applied directly to the toe joint to help relieve pain and inflammation. These often come in the form of creams, gels, or ointments that contain ingredients like menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil, and capsaicin. These ingredients work together to numb the toe joint and provide temporary pain relief.

Topical pain relievers can be found at most drugstores, but you may need to ask a pharmacist for help finding them. You can use them on their own, but they also work great in conjunction with stretches or massages.


If you're suffering from hallux limitus or hallux rigidus, there's no need to suffer in silence. There are a number of conservative treatments that can help relieve pain and improve toe joint function before resorting to more intensive treatments like surgery. If you're not sure what's best for your case, always consult with your podiatrist before starting any course of treatment.