6 Hallux Rigidus Exercises

Hallux rigidus can lead to a stiff and painful big toe. However, if you begin to treat it early on in the progression of the condition, you can slow down or even halt the progression and maintain good mobility in your toe.

These 6 hallux rigidus exercises will help you to keep your toe as mobile as possible.

Start to implement them as soon as you develop symptoms of hallux rigidus, as you may be able to retain motion. This can help keep you mobile and free to do your daily activities.

What Is Hallux Rigidus?

Hallux rigidus is a progressive form of arthritis that affects the first joint of the big toe.

When the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in your big toe starts to wear down or is damaged, the space between the bones narrows.

In the early stages—hallux limitus—you may notice swelling around the joint, that your big toe is stiff, and you may experience pain in the big toe when walking. The pain may flare up during wet weather (make sure to keep your shoes dry) or when it’s cold.

As the condition advances, you’ll start to notice that the big toe’s range of motion becomes limited. You may find that you have severe stiffness or the inability to move or bend your big toe, which is also called a frozen joint.

You may have severe pain or a dull ache that doesn’t subside even when you’re resting your foot. This can limit your ability to go about your everyday activities, as you constantly use your big toe joint.

The limited range of motion of the toe will alter the way you walk, and this can cause pain in the knee, hip, or lower back.

In some cases, hallux rigidus can lead to you developing other foot conditions, such as bone spurs or bunions, that form on top of the joint. Not only can this cause additional pain, but you may find it difficult to find hallux rigidus sandals and shoes that fit your feet.

These bumps can also then rub against the inside of the shoe, which can lead to painful calluses.

What Causes Hallux Rigidus

The cause of hallux rigidus is unknown, but there are several factors that may put you at a higher risk.

Taking part in sporting activities or working in certain jobs that place the big toe under a lot of stress can increase your risk of developing the condition.

The structure of your foot, especially if you have an elevated or long metatarsal bone, can increase your risk. For this reason, inserts for hallux rigidus can be helpful.

Inflammatory conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis can cause hallux rigidus to develop. Injuries to the foot where you’ve sprained the big toe joint or stubbed your toe can contribute to your developing the condition.

Your risk of developing hallux rigidus will also increase if you have a family member who has the condition.

Exercises for Hallux Rigidus

Exercising your big toe can help to slow down the progression of hallux rigidus when it’s in its early stages.

These exercises will help to alleviate pain and reduce stiffness, which will reduce your risk of injury.

1. Stretch Kneeling

Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, and then take a step forward with your affected foot. Then kneel down, shifting your body weight onto your toes. Slowly bring your knee forward, raising your heel off the ground until your knee touches the floor.

You should start to feel a stretch that extends from the ball of your foot to your ankle. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, and then intensify the stretch by shifting your weight onto your knee.

Try and hold the stretch for 1 to 2 minutes, repeating the steps on your alternative leg 2 to 3 times.

Depending on the severity of your hallux rigidus, you may only be able to hold this stretch for 20 to 40 seconds. Try to increase the time spent in the stretch to 1 to 2 minutes on each leg.

2. Foam Roller Exercise

For this exercise, you’ll remain standing and you’re going to need a mini foam roller.

Place the foam roller on the floor in front of your affected foot. Then use your toes to grip it and apply as much pressure as you can.

By clawing with your toes and pulling your heel forward, slowly roll the foam roller along the sole of your foot. Pause for a moment when you reach the ball of your foot, as you’ll need to tilt your knee slightly inwards.

You’ll also increase the amount of comfortable pressure that you’re applying to the arch of your foot.

Once you’ve applied comfortable pressure, continue to move your foot along the roller. As your toes start to touch the floor, let your heel raise up. Then shift your body weight over your toes.

Maintain the comfortable pressure and continue to use your toes to claw the floor while you move your foot along the foam roller. Once you reach your heel, roll from side to side for 20 to 30 seconds and then slowly roll the foam roller to the edge of your heel.

Do this exercise on each foot for 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Marble Pick Up Exercise

For this exercise, you’re going to need about 20 marbles and a bowl.

Start by sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place the marbles on the floor in front of your feet, making sure that they’re not too far out of your reach.

Then, using only your toes, pick up the marbles one at a time and place them into the bowl.

Repeat the exercise 3 to 5 times on each foot.

4. Pull the Toe

This exercise will help to increase your mobility in the big toe joint.

For this exercise, you’re going to need to put your affected foot up on a chair or a stool.

Using your dominant hand, hold your affected foot around the base of the big toe joint. Your thumb should be on top of the metatarsal bone, and your fingers should wrap around the foot and end near the center of the bottom of your foot.

Then, use your other hand to gently pull your big toe forward until you feel it stretch, and hold it for 5 to 10 seconds before letting go.

Now rotate your toe by gently twisting to the right and then the left, for 3 to 5 seconds. Then move your toe upwards and downwards for 5 to 10 seconds.

Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times for 5 to 10 seconds.

5. Stretch Band

For this exercise, you’re going to need a light resistance band.

Start by sitting in a chair and wrap the light resistance band around the back of your affected big toe. Your big toe should be pointed towards your ankle.

Then hold then ends and pull the band towards you to add some tension.

Push your big toe against the resistance band, back towards the floor, so that your big toe is in line with your other toes.

Do 3 sets of 15 to 30 reps on the big toe. If there’s no pain and you find the exercise too easy to do with the light resistance band, then you can go up in resistance.

6. Towel Curl

Sit in a chair with both your feet flat on the ground and place a small hand towel in front of your feet.

Start with your affected foot and place it on the towel. Then using only your toes, scrunch the towel up towards you.

Once the towel has been scrunched up, lay it out in front of you in the original position. Relax your foot for 30 to 40 seconds and then repeat the exercises 5 times on each foot.

Camasta, C. A. “Hallux Limitus and Hallux Rigidus. Clinical Examination, Radiographic Findings, and Natural History.” Clinics in Podiatric Medicine and Surgery, vol. 13, no. 3, 1 July 1996, pp. 423–448,
www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8829034/
Accessed 3 Dec. 2021

Harvard Medical School. “Big Toe Got You Down? It May Be Hallux Rigidus.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publisher, 1 Nov. 2006,
www.health.harvard.edu/pain/big-toe-got-you-down-it-may-be-hallux-rigidus
Accessed 3 Dec. 2021