Exercises for Hallux Rigidus

You should stretch your big toe to help with hallux rigidus.
Image Credit: Peter Cade/Stone/GettyImages

Your big toe may be a small part of your body, but when it hurts, it can affect your life significantly. Arthritis in the big toe that causes the joint to lose flexibility is known as hallux rigidus, according to the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. However, hallux rigidus exercises can help.


Read more: How to Stop Foot Pain with 7 Easy Exercises

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What Is Hallux Rigidus?

Hallux rigidus is also known as "stiff big toe." It's a form of degenerative arthritis in the metatarsophalangeal joint, which is where the big toe meets your foot, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you have arthritis in the big toe, exercises can help. Hallux rigidus can be genetic, or it can occur after an injury, such as stubbing your toe or spraining the joint. The condition may develop because you've overused the joint or because of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

The Cleveland Clinic notes that hallux rigidus is the second most common disorder of the big toe — bunions are number one — and most frequently occurs in people between age 30 and 60. If you don't take any measures once you begin to feel symptoms of stiff big toe, hallux rigidus will continue to progress, making the joint even stiffer and more painful.

Hallux range-of-motion exercises may help slow the progression if it's in the early stages. Proper footwear — no high heels — can help relieve pain, as can placing pads in your shoe to limit the big toe's movement and avoiding high-impact exercises like running. Other treatment options include orthotic devices, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), injection therapy and physical therapy, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.


Read more: How to Exercise with a Broken Toe

Marble Pickup Exercise

Although this exercise primarily works the plantar flexors on the underside of your foot, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), you should also feel it at the top of your foot and in your toes.


  1. Sit in a chair with your feet flat and 20 marbles on the floor in front of your feet. Make sure not to place the marbles too far out in front or to the side of your feet.
  2. Using your toes, pick up the marbles one by one and place them into a bowl.
  3. Repeat until all the marbles are in the bowl.


Toe Extension Exercise

Fairview Hospital recommends a toe extension exercise for flexibility.


  1. Sit in a chair and place your right ankle on your left knee.
  2. Hold your toes with your right hand and slowly bend your toes backward toward your ankle. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
  3. Gently push your toes forward, away from your ankle, and hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
  4. Repeat five times.

Towel Curl Exercise

Like the marble pickup exercise, towel curls work your plantar flexors as well as the tops of your feet and your toes, says AAOS. To do this exercise, you'll need a hand towel.


  1. Sit on a chair with both feet flat on the ground. Place a hand towel on the floor in front of your feet.
  2. Use your toes to grab the center of your towel and curl it toward you.
  3. Reset the towel in the original position, relax your feet and repeat for a total of five repetitions.


Increase the difficulty of this exercise by putting a weight on the edge of the towel.




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