Hallux Rigidus Treatment & Management

  • Author: Minoo Hadjari Hollis, MD; Chief Editor: Jason H Calhoun, MD, FACS  more...
Updated: Jul 21, 2015

Approach Considerations

Nonsurgical techniques can often be used to successfully treat patients with varying degrees of severity of hallux rigidus. However, when the condition is refractory to nonoperative treatment methods, there are a number of procedures that can be employed as treatment. The choice of operation depends on the degree of involvement, the range-of-motion (ROM) limitations, the individual's activity level, and the surgeon's and patient's preference. Options include the following:

  • Joint-sparing procedures, such as cheilectomy, with or without proximal phalanx osteotomy (Moberg procedure)
  • Metatarsal (MT) osteotomy
  • Joint arthroplasty
  • Arthrodesis

Dorsal cheilectomy is indicated in patients with mild to moderate arthritic changes with less than 50% involvement of the joint surface.[18] A proximal phalangeal osteotomy can be added in patients in whom sufficient dorsiflexion (DF) is not obtained (if plantarflexion [PF] is sufficient).

Excisional arthroplasty, or the Keller procedure, is associated with a number of potential complications and is not generally recommended.[19] Capsular interposition arthroplasty, however, can provide good pain relief in select individuals with advanced degenerative disease.

Metatarsophalangeal (MTP) arthrodesis is an excellent procedure that is indicated in most cases of advanced hallux rigidus. The benefits of MT osteotomies are theoretical, and these procedures are not recommended for the treatment of uncomplicated hallux rigidus.

Silicone-implant arthroplasty probably has no place in the treatment of hallux rigidus. It is not clear that current metallic hemiarthroplasty and total arthroplasty have significant advantages over capsular interposition arthroplasty, and the techniques have many reported complications.[20]

An absolute contraindication for operative treatment is poor peripheral circulation.


Medical Therapy

Medication options include analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Mechanical methods limiting the first MTP joint motion are helpful. The use of in-shoe orthotics with medial stiffness, stiff-soled shoes with a rocker bottom, shoes with a wide toe box, low-heeled shoes, and shoe modifications (eg, a steel shank placed along the entire medial side) may be beneficial. Activity modifications include avoiding extremes of DF of the great toe, such as those caused by kneeling or squatting with the toes in an extended position.

Solan et al reported on the use of manipulation and injection of the joint, but this was noted to be helpful only in grade 1 or 2 hallux rigidus.[21] Patients with grade 1 changes obtained symptomatic relief for a median of 6 months. Little symptomatic relief was seen in patients with grade 3 arthritis.


Surgical Therapy

Surgical options include joint-sparing procedures, such as cheilectomy, with or without proximal phalanx osteotomy (the Moberg procedure), as well as MT osteotomy, joint arthroplasty, and arthrodesis.[22, 23]


Cheilectomy involves the excision of all irregular bony spurs that limit motion.[18] These spurs are primarily dorsal, but excision of impinging medial and lateral spurs, if present, is usually part of the procedure as well. Most authors recommend dorsal cheilectomy for patients with mild to moderate radiographic changes, particularly young or active patients who have less than 50% articular cartilage loss, as seen at surgery.

The procedure can be performed through a  5- to 6-cm dorsal midline or medial incision centered over the first MTP joint. The dorsomedial cutaneous nerve is protected. A longitudinal capsulotomy exposes the joint, and all excessive synovial tissue is debrided.

The joint is explored for any loose bodies and joint abnormalities. Often, the articular surface of the MT head shows erosions down to bone in the dorsal half. Occasionally, erosive changes of the proximal phalanx surface also are present. An osteotome or saw is used to resect the large, dorsal osteophyte on the MT head and, sometimes, the dorsal base of the proximal phalanx. As much as one third of the dorsal joint surface of the MT head is excised. Usually, most of the eroded surface is excised. (See the image below.)

Status post cheilectomy, first metatarsal phalange Status post cheilectomy, first metatarsal phalangeal joint with excision of the dorsal aspect of the first metatarsal head.

Medial and lateral bone spurs are excised flush with the joint, and the ROM is checked. The goal is to achieve at least 60º of MTP DF intraoperatively. A Freer elevator is used to free any plantar adhesions between the MT head and the sesamoids. In addition, the plantar capsule is released, if necessary, to achieve improved ROM.

Postoperatively, the patient may bear weight as tolerated in a postoperative shoe. Passive motion exercises are started in 1 week if the wound is dry.


Mann et al reported on 20 patients who were treated with cheilectomy and monitored for an average of 67.6 months.[24] They stated that patient satisfaction with the procedure was uniform and that they had an 85% success rate, with an average DF of 30° after surgery.

Mann and Clanton reported on 34 cheilectomies, with 74% improvement in motion, an average of 20° improvement in joint motion, and 90% pain relief, with an average resultant DF of 48°.[10] Over an average follow-up period of 56 months, they reported no complications.

Easley et al reported on 75 feet treated with cheilectomy, with an average follow-up of 63 months.[25] The average DF improved 20°, but 9 of 21 patients with recurrent dorsal formation were symptomatic.

Mulier et al followed up 22 athletes who had undergone cheilectomy for grade 1 or 2 hallux rigidus and noted that functional results were excellent in 14 of the athletes, good in 7, and fair in 1 patient at 5-year follow-up.[26] Seven had radiographic signs of progression at follow-up.

Mackay et al evaluated 39 patients at a mean follow-up time of 3.8 years after cheilectomy.[27] The patients had grade 1, 2, or 3 hallux rigidus as defined by the Regnauld classification. The investigators noted significant improvements in pain, activity level, tiptoe walking ability, and ROM among patients no matter which grade of hallux rigidus had been treated. Footwear selection improved significantly in patients with grade 1 or 2 hallux rigidus, but not in patients with grade 3.

Nicolosi et al performed a retrospective study of 58 patients (mean age, 55.71 ± 9.51 years) to evaluate the long-term efficacy (mean follow-up, 7.14 years; range, 39 weeks to 14.87 years) of aggressive cheilectomy for addressing DJD of the first MTP joint.[28]  In all, 51 of the 58 patients had no limitations in their daily activities; only two subsequently required arthrodesis.

Proximal phalanx osteotomy

Bonney and Macnab first described proximal phalanx osteotomy for the treatment of hallux rigidus in 1952.[14] In 1958, Kessel and Bonney reported on the use of the procedure in 10 adolescents, and in 1979, Moberg discussed its use in 8 patients.[29, 30] Moberg popularized the proximal phalanx osteotomy, and his name is commonly associated with the procedure. The surgery involves increasing the DF by translating the arc of motion from plantar to dorsal, thereby increasing the functional ROM of the MTP joint to a more dorsal position because of a more dorsiflexed position of the toe. This position decreases push-off stress on the hallux and provides decompression of the dorsal joint space.

A prerequisite to the procedure is the presence of adequate PF. Proximal phalanx osteotomy is always accompanied by dorsal joint cheilectomy/decompression. Reported complications are relatively few but have included nonunion or malunion, tendon injury, neuritis or neuroma, progressive degenerative joint disease (DJD), and decreased pushoff power. Most reports of this procedure show functional improvement with low complication rates. They also show that this procedure can be added to dorsal cheilectomy when sufficient DF is not attained with cheilectomy alone in cases of mild to moderate hallux rigidus (particularly in running athletes), provided that preoperatove PF is adequate.

The technique involves a medial longitudinal or a dorsal incision over the base of the proximal phalanx, with protection of the dorsal and plantar medial cutaneous nerves and the flexor and extensor tendons. A dorsal closing-wedge greenstick osteotomy is performed with a saw or osteotome just distal to the MTP joint. The plantar cortex is maintained, and 2-6 mm of dorsal cortex is cut, depending on the degree of hallux PF and joint stiffness. The goal is to attain 20-30° of DF relative to the first MT.

The osteotomy can be stabilized with a Kirschner wire (K-wire), a small screw, or a staple to allow early DF at 1-2 weeks and PF at 3-4 weeks. Full weightbearing is usually allowed.


Thomas and Smith reviewed 24 great toes after proximal phalanx osteotomy and reported improvement in all patients.[31] Recovery time was 2-12 months. The average increase in DF was 7°, and PF increased 3°. The increase in PF was attributed to aggressive physical therapy. Radiographically, the dorsal MTP joint space increased, and the length of the proximal phalanx decreased by an average of 4 mm. The resting position of the toe showed an average increase in elevation of 5.4 mm.

Citron and Neil reported on 10 toes at a 22-year follow-up.[32] All patients experienced complete pain relief shortly after the osteotomy, and relief was permanent in 5 of the 10 toes. One patient required an MTP fusion. The researchers found that after the osteotomy, PF of the MTP joint was lost, but the arc of movement of the interphalangeal (IP) joint was shifted toward PF.


Although not commonly performed, arthroscopic removal of the dorsal osteophytes in hallux rigidus has been reported. Arthroscopy of the great-toe MTP joint requires the availability of small arthroscopic equipment (1.9 mm) and the use of digital equipment. The role of arthroscopy in the treatment of various grades of hallux rigidus and its benefits compared with those of open cheilectomy have not been defined. Fast rehabilitation and prompt return to work are the advantages of this arthroscopic procedure.


van Dijk and colleagues performed a prospective study in 24 consecutive patients, 17 of whom were high-level athletes. In the dorsal impingement group, 8 of 12 patients had a good or excellent result after a minimum follow-up of 2 years.[33] One patient in this group had a persistent loss of sensitivity of the hallux.

Iqbal and Chana evaluated 15 patients who underwent arthroscopic cheilectomy for hallux rigidus and reported encouraging early results without the need for revision surgery.[34]

Metatarsal osteotomy

MT osteotomies are based on the premise that metatarsus elevatus or a long first MT are the underlying causes of hallux rigidus. Therefore, a number of different osteotomies to cause PF and/or to shorten the first MT have been described.

Most authors define indications for osteotomy in lower grades of hallux rigidus. Proximal and distal osteotomies have been described. A number of authors, including Suppan in 1921, Hohman in 1924, Waterman in 1927, Lambrinudi in 1938, Youngswick in 1982, Pittman and Burns in 1984, and Davies in 1989, have described different methods of performing these osteotomies.[7] The procedures include wedge-, oblique-, or crescentic-type osteotomies, performed at the base or neck to result in PF and/or shortening of the first MT. Waterman's dorsal closing-wedge osteotomy with removal of the dorsal osteophytes in effect rotates the articular surface dorsally for a more functional arc of motion.


Despite the number of first-MT osteotomies for hallux rigidus that have been reported in the literature, no long-term results from these procedures are available. In addition, the high rates of complications, such as nonunion, malunion, intractable plantar ketosis under the first MT head, sesamoiditis, transfer lesions, stress fractures, dorsal contractures, arthrofibrosis, and progressive DJD, make the results of these procedures unpredictable. The associated high risks and the minimal potential benefits in most patients with hallux rigidus must be considered.[35, 36]


Arthrodesis eliminates all motion across the first MTP joint; it is a reliable and reproducible procedure with a high percentage of good results. This procedure is indicated in severe cases of hallux rigidus and as a salvage procedure when other surgical methods fail. Preoperative considerations are whether enough bone stock is available for an in situ fusion and whether an interposition bone block is necessary for a shortened first ray.[12]

The procedure involves a dorsomedial or medial exposure of the first MTP joint, as well as the removal of the articular cartilage to create opposable, cancellous surfaces and stabilization using one of a number of different devices, including pins, screws, or plates. The medial exposure has the benefit of avoiding a scar contracture involving the dorsomedial cutaneous nerve.

A number of different techniques have been described for preparation of bone ends and for fixation of the toe. Conical reamers can be used to allow continued good apposition throughout the range of positions of the toe. The use of these reamers requires good circumferential exposure of the joint. The position of the toe is the most important aspect of this operation. The most commonly recommended position is that in which the toe is placed in approximately 15° of DF. However, the optimal position depends on the hallux declination angle, which has been described as 15-30°.

To check the position intraoperatively, a simulated weight-bearing position is created by using a hard, flat surface on the plantar aspect of the foot, and the ankle is brought into neutral. The great toe is positioned in approximation to the surface. The degree of valgus is usually a few degrees and somewhat dependent on the position of the second toe, allowing a small separation between the great and second toes.[37, 38]

Techniques used to stabilize the prepared surfaces can be stabilized range from simple suturing to the use of single or multiple smooth or threaded pins, lag and cross screws, variable pitch screws, and a variety of different plates. Precontoured plates with built-in DF and valgus simplify positioning and provide a strong and stable construct. (See the image below.)

Arthrodesis of first metatarsal phalangeal joint u Arthrodesis of first metatarsal phalangeal joint using 2 crossed screws.

Complications of arthrodesis include nonunion, malunion, hardware failure, and potential development of arthritis at the IP and tarsometatarsal (TMT) joints. Scar contracture and development of neuromas of the dorsomedial cutaneous nerve can be minimized using the medial exposure. Excessive DF is compensated for by IP joint flexion, resulting in painful dorsal keratosis over the IP joint, functional offloading of the hallux, and resultant metatarsalgia. On the other hand, excessive PF is compensated for by hyperextension at the IP joint and an increased load under the hallux MP and IP joints, with resultant painful calluses.

Postoperatively, the patient's foot is immobilized in a cast that extends beyond the toes or in a postoperative boot until union is seen on radiographs. Weight bearing is dependent on the security of fixation. Usually, patients who have undergone fixation augmented with plates can be allowed partial weightbearing when the wound is closed and dry at 2-3 weeks postoperatively. Full, unprotected weightbearing is allowed after union.


Coughlin and Abdo reported a 92% fusion rate with the use of congruent cup-shaped reamers and a dorsal plate (as performed on 58 feet).[39] They described a 98% fusion rate, and 93% of their cases had good or excellent results. Plate removal was necessary in 4 cases, and they reported delayed union in 1 case and plate breakage in 1 case.

Chana et al reported the use of suture stabilization using size 00 chromic catgut postoperative casting to achieve stable arthrodesis in 87 of 87 feet. They reported a 10% incidence of pseudoarthrosis and 4 malunions.

In 1993, Curtis et al compared the biomechanical results of 4 methods of internal fixation and noted that bony preparation with power conical reamers and supplementary interfragmentary screw fixation had the most stable results.[40]

Coughlin and Mann reported on 16 feet that underwent arthrodesis after the failure of a Keller procedure.[41] Using multiple intramedullary threaded Steinmann pins to fix the bone, the authors noted a 100% arthrodesis rate. They used interposition of an iliac crest bone graft in 4 feet with an excessively short hallux. In 92% of cases, intractable keratosis was relieved; cock-up deformity of the hallux was improved.

Smith et al, using five threaded 0.062 K-wires for fixation in 34 feet after the joint surfaces had been prepared with conical reamers, reported an arthrodesis rate of 97%.[42]

Hamilton et al reported on 37 feet after resection arthroplasty with the extensor hood and extensor brevis reattached to the flexor hallucis brevis (FHB) as a capsular interposition arthroplasty (with minimal bone resection).[43] They found maintenance of PF strength in four of five cases, with an average of 50° DF.

Kennedy and Coughlin reported on a peg-in-socket method for the salvage of failed Keller excisional arthroplasty in the presence of poor bone stock.[44]

DeFrino et al evaluated plantar pressure distribution and gait patterns after first MTP arthrodesis.[45] They reported the restoration of the weightbearing function of the first ray, with greater maximum force carried by the distal hallux at toe-off. The authors noted a significantly shorter step length, with some loss in ankle PF at toe-off on the fused side. They suggested a reduction in ankle torque and ankle power at pushoff. The authors also reported a high level of patient satisfaction with this procedure.


Excisional/interposition arthroplasty

Commonly known as the Keller technique, this procedure involves the excision of the base of the proximal phalanx. It is indicated in moderate to severe cases of hallux rigidus in individuals with low functional demands who desire the maintenance of joint motion. The original procedure involves the insertion of the medial capsule into the resected joint. It has been a popular procedure for many decades.[19, 46]

Complications from this procedure, however, are common; they include hallux weakness, elevation, floppiness, a short hallux, and development of transfer lesions under the second MTP joint. For this reason, a number of modifications have been published. To avoid retraction of the extensor hallucis brevis (EHB), the thickened dorsal capsule is attached to the stumps of the EHB distal to the sesamoids. The surgeon should be careful not to excise too much of the base of the proximal phalanx and to excise only to the metadiaphyseal junction. Otherwise, a floppy toe may result. In addition, excessive resection further shortens the already shortened hallux.

A modified oblique cut of the proximal to spare the FHB has been described. Other modifications include the use of plantaris tendon as an interposition graft.

Lau and Daniels retrospectively reviewed 11 feet with grade 3 osteoarthritis that were treated with interposition arthroplasty and 24 feet with grade 2 osteoarthritis that were treated with cheilectomy.[47] Approximately 2 years after treatment, results were compared with respect to postoperative motion, visual analogue pain scale scores, and Medical Outcomes Study 36-item short-form (SF-36) results. About 73% of patients who underwent interposition arthroplasty reported weakness, compared with 17% of the group that underwent cheilectomy. About 73% of patients in the former group reported satisfaction with interposition arthroplasty, and about 88% in the latter group were satisfied with cheilectomy.

The procedure is usually performed via a medial incision. The capsule is exposed, the medial eminence is excised, and cheilectomy is performed. The soft tissues are released from the base of the proximal phalanx, including the capsule, the plantar plate, and FHB tendons. The EHB is tenotomized, and after the soft tissues are protected, the base of the proximal phalanx is excised with a saw or osteotome. The dorsal capsule is then mobilized and pulled into the resected joint space and sutured to the stumps of the FHB tendons. A 0.062 K-wire is placed across the IP and MTP joints for 3 weeks. Gentle ROM exercises are started once the K-wire has been removed.

Significant improvement of pain and function and an average DF of 50° can be achieved, as reported by Hamilton et al.[43] Relative contraindications for interposition arthroplasty for the treatment of hallux rigidus include relatively short first MTs (Morton or Grecian foot) owing to the development of transfer lesions and, for high-level athletes and ballet dancers, because of the loss of the windlass mechanism.

Silicone arthroplasty

Silicone arthroplasty was originally designed to provide motion and length. A number of groups have reported good results with the use of silicone arthroplasty, including, in 1993, Cracchiolo et al, who followed up 86 double-stem silicone implants in the first MTP joint for an average of 5.8 years.[48] They reported an 84% satisfaction rate.

Many other studies, however, have shown that silicone does not possess the structural durability or the surface characteristics needed to withstand the severe shear and tension stresses generated by the repetitive motion associated with normal ambulatory activities. In addition, the friction of silicone on bone produced in hemiarthroplasty and at the bone-silicone interface in stemmed implants produces wear and fragmentation of the silicone. This can induce severe local synovitis and osteolysis, and the systemic dissemination of silicone can result in granulomatous adenopathy after MTP arthroplasty.[49, 50, 51]

Rahman and Fagg reviewed 78 feet after silicone hemiarthroplasty of the first MTP joint.[52] At a mean follow-up of 4.5 years, 56 feet showed radiologic evidence that was suggestive of silicone granulomatous disease, with 3 cases of the disease being confirmed at histologic study. The investigators suggested that this operation be abandoned.

Shankar reported on 40 cases of hallux rigidus that were treated with silicone hemiarthroplasty and then followed up for an average of 110 months.[53] The author stated that 36% of the study's patients were unhappy with the results of the procedure and that 6 implants had to be removed because of pain and fragmentation.

The use of grommets seems to improve the long-term results secondary to decreasing wear by protecting the silicone implant. Long-term reports on newer, more anatomic implant designs and the use in implants of better-grade silicone with better wear characteristics are not available. Given current knowledge and the long-term durability of alternative treatments, the use of silicone implants for the treatment of hallux rigidus is not advised.

Metallic arthroplasty

Total arthroplasty and hemiarthroplasty designs also have been available for the treatment of moderate to severe hallux rigidus. Several implants are available, including those used for hemiarthroplasties and full arthroplasties. They are made of cobalt chromium, titanium, or both, with a polyethylene bearing surface of ultrahigh molecular weight. The few reports providing long-term results have been mixed.

Townley et al conducted a long-term retrospective study of 279 nonconstrained metallic resurfacing implants used for hemiarthroplasty.[54] Among the cases, 95.3% had good or excellent results with a follow-up time of 10 months to 33 years.

Johnson et al reported results achieved with a stainless steel and polyethylene surface replacement prosthesis for the first MTP joint, fixed with methylmethacrylate.[55] In a series of 21 joints, the satisfaction rate was 81% at an average follow-up of 43 months.

Lu et al reported findings from an 8-year follow-up study of 14 cases with a titanium total joint prosthesis.[56] They reported a 31.8% complication rate and a 27.3% rate of revision.

Gheorgiu et al retrospectively reviewed data from 11 patients (12 feet) who underwent first MTP joint hemiarthroplasty with the HemiCAP(®) prosthesis (mean follow-up, 47 motnhs; range, 36-48 months).[57]  Of the 12 feet, 41.7% were pain-free at follow-up, 25% had mild pain, 16.7% had moderate pain, and 16.7% had severe pain. In addition, 42% showed no evidence of radiologic subsidence, and 58% showed a mean subsidence of 2.71 mm (range, 1-6 mm). Most of the patients continued to have a limited ROM, reporting only reasonable levels of satisfaction.

In the limited reports available, multinucleated foreign giant cells associated with fine particulate metallic wear debris have been reported in failed cases of titanium hemiarthroplasty with periarticular osteolysis. On the basis of the currently available data, the general use of metal implants for the treatment of hallux rigidus is probably not indicated in mild to moderate cases of hallux rigidus. More research is needed to define the long-term outcome of metallic implants and to compare their use with that of interposition arthroplasty and MP fusion in severe hallux rigidus.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Minoo Hadjari Hollis, MD Orthopedic Surgeon, Sound Orthopedics and Foot and Ankle Center

Minoo Hadjari Hollis, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

Jason H Calhoun, MD, FACS Department Chief, Musculoskeletal Sciences, Spectrum Health Medical Group

Jason H Calhoun, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American College of Surgeons, American Diabetes Association, American Medical Association, American Orthopaedic Association, American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, Michigan State Medical Society, Missouri State Medical Association, Southern Medical Association, Southern Orthopaedic Association, Texas Medical Association, Texas Orthopaedic Association, Musculoskeletal Infection Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

John S Early, MD Foot/Ankle Specialist, Texas Orthopaedic Associates, LLP; Co-Director, North Texas Foot and Ankle Fellowship, Baylor University Medical Center

John S Early, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, Orthopaedic Trauma Association, Texas Medical Association

Disclosure: Received honoraria from AO North America for speaking and teaching; Received consulting fee from Stryker for consulting; Received consulting fee from Biomet for consulting; Received grant/research funds from AO North America for fellowship funding; Received honoraria from MMI inc for speaking and teaching; Received consulting fee from Osteomed for consulting; Received ownership interest from MedHab Inc for management position.

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A patient who presented with a tender, palpable dorsal osteophyte at the first metatarsophalangeal joint on physical exam.
A patient who presented with a tender, palpable dorsal osteophyte at the first metatarsophalangeal joint on physical exam.
Dorsal exostoses base of proximal phalanx and first metatarsal head blocking dorsiflexion and causing impingement.
Joint-space narrowing, marginal osteophytes, and irregularity of the first metatarsal phalangeal joint.
Status post cheilectomy, first metatarsal phalangeal joint with excision of the dorsal aspect of the first metatarsal head.
Arthrodesis of first metatarsal phalangeal joint using 2 crossed screws.
Severe arthrosis first metatarsal phalangeal joint and bony changes of the metatarsal head and the proximal phalanx seen during arthrodiastasis first metatarsal phalangeal joint.
Arthrodiastasis first metatarsal phalangeal joint using a mini external fixator.
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