I started researching this blog post and found out I was connected to a few professional athletes. What do I have in common with Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross, NBA All-Star Shaquille O’Neal, and MLB Hall of Famer Frank Thomas? All of us have dealt with a condition called hallux rigidus. And like my fellow athletes, I too had surgery to deal with it. Little did I know that was a common sports injury but I had never really heard of it. So what is hallux rigidus?
It’s a condition also known as stiff big toe and is related to turf toe. It’s a form of degenerative arthritis where the joint at the base of the big toe stiffens and you lose your range of motion in your toe. It gets worse as time goes on. It’s possible to get by without surgery but you can’t be as active anymore. For me, that wasn’t an option because I love running so I had surgery like many other athletes do as well. Doctors usually trim down bone spurs and clear out the joint. In extreme cases, they fuse foot bones together to allow more space for toes to move.
What I found fascinating about this is that is affects lots of athletes covering the entire world of sports. While turf toe is a similar condition, it usually affects soccer players and football players. Hallux rigidus or stiff big toe affects athletes like runners and baseball players. It even affects ballerinas.
Shaquille O’Neal and Derrick Rose both had surgery to alleviate the condition. They both had Stage 2 surgery meaning that bone spurs were removed and the joint cleaned out. MLBer Frank Thomas mentioned his team podiatrist Dr. Lowell Weil. Sr. for treating his feet over the course of his career which included dealing with hallux rigidus and large bone spurs he had removed.
Many podiatrists say the condition emerges when the person is between 30-50. This makes me wonder how many baseball players could join the ranks of these athletes and have this condition pop up in the future, especially among catchers who seem to put the most pressure on those toe joints.
Speaking as someone recovering from this surgery, it’s not a fun procedure. You’re in a medical shoe for at least two weeks with four to six painful stitches. But the good news is it’s an outpatient surgery so there is no hospital stay and you can start walking immediately after surgery. No boots or crutches required! And as crazy as it sounds, the recovery time usually about one to two months meaning athletes can bounce back fairly quickly. And if Richards-Ross can work back from it and rank second in the world in the 400 meters race, then I can see many athletes overcoming the condition to return to successful careers.