COVID-19 updates, including vaccine information, for our patients and visitors Learn More


Toe Disorders

Our toes help us balance, assist in everyday activities and help us bear weight. Playing sports, running, receiving a blow to the foot or wearing shoes that are too loose or too tight can cause toe problems. Roughly 36,000 job-related toe injuries occur every year.

At UC San Diego Health, our care team provides the latest diagnostic tests and nonsurgical and surgical therapies to treat minor and complex injuries of the foot and ankle.

Foot and ankle care at UC San Diego Health

Diagnosis and Treatment

Some types of toe disorders may be diagnosed on a simple physical examination. If bone spurs are present, X-rays may be performed to assess their size and location. X-rays are also used to identify the extent of joint degeneration.

Nonsurgical treatment is always the first line of defense. To manage and treat symptoms, our experts may recommend heat or ice packs, exercises that stretch and strengthen muscles, change in footwear, anti-inflammatory medicines, pain relievers, injections into the joint to reduce pain, or shoe inserts.

Surgery may be considered in moderate to severe cases that are not responding to nonsurgical methods.

Surgical therapies used to treat hallux rigidus include cheilectomy, interpositional arthroplasty, and arthrodesis. Length of recovery depends on the type of surgery performed.

Types of Toe Disorders

Our team treats all types of toe disorders including:

  • Stiff big toe (hallux rigidus)
  • Lesser toe deformities

Learn more about toe disorders below.

Stiff Big Toe

This toe disorder is caused by degenerative arthritis or spurs that affect the base of the big toe. The most common arthritis-related condition of the foot, hallux rigidus usually develops between the ages of 30 to 60 years. Symptoms include stiffness and swelling around the big toe, as well as pain in the joint during activity. In some cases, a bump may develop on the top of the big toe, which can be irritated when rubbed against the inside of the shoe.


A hammertoe is an abnormality of the second, third or fourth toe. In this disorder, the toe bends at the middle joint in the shape of a hammer. While initially flexible, if a hammertoe is not treated, it can become fixed and require surgical treatment. Causes of hammertoe include a muscle imbalance or wearing shoes that don’t fit correctly.

Sports Medicine Appointments & Referrals


La Jolla


Our Specialists