/ Toe Osteoarthritis and climbing. (Hallux Limitus)

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geomickb - on 27 Jun 2018


Does anyone have experience of climbing with Hallus Limitus/Rigidus?

My shoes don't fit anymore because I have lost range on movement in my big toe. I can no longer scrunch (flex) my toe down.

Just wondering if I should try bigger shoes, or take up knitting?


danm on 27 Jun 2018
In reply to geomickb:

I'd try out some shoes with a flat last first before you give up, most rock boot manufacturers have some in their range.

Offwidth - on 27 Jun 2018
In reply to geomickb:

I've had the problem for 18 years.. I can't run anymore or do consecutive big ice climbing days but my rock climbing is fine... day after day on big routes... the shoes I use are unaffected on day routes and for bouldering they not quite as tight as they once were but this has hardly afected my grade.

JayPee630 - on 28 Jun 2018
In reply to Offwidth:

When did you first start noticing it, and how long before it stopped you running? Have you had any treatment?

I started feeling mine 5 years ago in one toe, now it's there in both. Not stopped me doing anything yet, although it is sore after a run and a day in mountain boots.

Hoping I can get 5 more years of running and mountaineering at least before have to consider more serious treatment like an operation.

NottsRich on 29 Jun 2018
In reply to JayPee630:

Similar situation to yourself. Been in one toe for 4/5 years. B3s are painful after a long day, and running shoes, but so are rock shoes now. The toe would also go numb for several days/weeks after a long hill day too.

I changed to bigger shoes last summer and I think that helped. Certainly more comfortable in the days following climbing. The also match the shape of my foot better, and have less down turn of the toe box.

Things have actually improved slightly after a podiatrist cut out a hole in one of my insoles. If it's my right big toe that hurts, the hole is about 1" behind where the toe joins the foot, and about 1" diameter. The idea is it helps to mobilise the joint in the foot and keep it mobile for as long as possible. After that more supportive/rigid shoes are required. It does seem to be helping day-to-day, but I haven't had any climbing shoes on for a while now to test them.

A question to anyone else with this annoying condition: Are your feet the same size? Is the painful foot the larger one? Do you have a flat arch on either foot compared to the other one? Are you legs different lengths, and if so is the painful toe attached to the longer or shorter leg?

Post edited at 11:02
Offwidth - on 29 Jun 2018
In reply to JayPee630:

In 2000 my main left foot big toe joint with the foot was swollen and locked up after running down a glacier in borrowed plastic boots. I could barely walk but X rays showed no break and I eventually saw a podiatrist when back in the UK when the swelling had much reduced. They said it was a bunion and could be operated on but that that carried a long recovery and some risks it would not be OK afterwards. From that time, running and long winter mountain days caused problems which lasted a few days, so I gave up running and reduced my winter mountaineering and used anti inflammatories as required. Yet, as I could climb and walk and still ice climb on routes with shorter walk-ins, I delayed getting surgical treatment. Over the years since, it's getting slowly worse with time but I still don't want 6 months out with that risk. I work on joint mobility daily.

After 1991 I'd dumped the macho bullshit people told me about really tight shoes, started using thin socks and never again wore over-tight climbing shoes. No more pain, no more stinky shoes, with nasty gunk, less problems with midges and ticks. My footwork related grades actually improved until the bunion came. Still not much worse even now (I've adapted techniques on rock, especially on smears).

Post edited at 17:17
JayPee630 - on 29 Jun 2018
In reply to Offwidth:

Thanks. Ouch. What age did it develop? And what joint mobility do you work on? I did see something a while ago but can't find a program or suggestions. Guess you find it helps?

Yeah, mine are getting worse slowly. Used to be woken with pain sometimes, but they're a bit more settled now. Thought it was gout at first!

I wouldn't be too bothered with surgery later in life (am 46) but don't want it now in case the outcome is bad.

Post edited at 18:07
icehockeyhair - on 01 Jul 2018
In reply to geomickb:

Which joint on the toe is affected for everyone? I've been having big toe problems this year that affect the knuckle joint (PIP joint I think). The descriptions I've read of Hallux Limitus/Rigidus seem to refer to the joint with the rest of the foot (or MTP joint).

Joint had lost some mobility but managed to get it mobile with advice from podiatrist and simple exercises. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to have got rid of the pain and currently off climbing. Think it might be connected to having my big toe crimped slightly in more aggressive shoes.

Post edited at 11:30
GreatApe - on 01 Jul 2018
In reply to geomickb:

I have it on both feet, but the left foot is in a much more advanced state. I went to the podiatrist a month or so ago expecting to be told that with an insole and some exercises I could overcome it, only to be told that I'm pretty much at the most advanced stage of hallux rigidus, and all I can wait for now is the joint to fully fuse of its own accord (apparently this is preferable to surgery to fuse the joint). The silver lining is that I am probably at peak pain from the condition. Apparently once the first joint seizes, the second big toe joint gains in mobility to compensate.

The head of the metatarsal bone on my left foot has a bunion-like build-up of bone, while the left just has a pronounced ridge. She said that my case is caused by pronation, and if I think back it probably began back in my late teens or early 20s. I can remember feeling a clicking in the joint when doing calisthenics, which I now know was the bones jutting against each other and wearing down the cartilage.

I'm 35, and the podiatrist said it shouldn't stop me doing anything. I can still run relatively pain free. I don't climb at the moment, but big hill days used to be debilitating and I'd be limping until Thursday after a weekend in the hills. I spent a weekend scrambling recently and my feet were sore at the end of the day, but I managed two days in a row and I wasn't hobbling when I got home. My Scarpa Charmoz are more comfortable than my Asolo Fugitives, so the boot can make a difference.

I have actually seen some improvements in range of motion  and pain levels by spending more time barefoot (I do a mobility programme based on animal movements - - they also have a good article on strengthening your feet) and super-dosing fish oil. I think that by strengthening the foot, maximizing lubrication, and helping to reduce inflammation, I'm taking as much strain off the joint as possible and getting the most from the limited range of motion. The podiatrist showed me a trick in which you pull on the big toe bone between the two joints and move the toe back and forth. This opens up the joint and gets some synovial fluid into it. I find this especially helpful on the mornings when I wake up and it is especially stiff and painful.

paul mitchell - on 02 Jul 2018
In reply to geomickb:

Have just started using Boswellia.Seems to have  effect of reducing  joint inflammation.Also curcumin extract. May or may not work for you. Cutting out refined foods and reducing alcohol also a good idea.

cb294 - on 02 Jul 2018
In reply to geomickb:

Welcome to the club. Try some shoes with a stiff mid sole in the frontal third or so, usually sold as specialist all day shoes for long alpine routes. No particular model recommended, that depends on your individual fit.


NottsRich on 09 Jul 2018
In reply to cb294:

Do you have any examples of these? I've not heard of this type of shoe before, as I've just used a loose fitting Red Chili lace up. An example to point me in the right direction would be appreciated. Thanks.

cb294 - on 09 Jul 2018
In reply to NottsRich:

Just shop around for a boot for alpine climbing that fits your feet. For me the Boreal Ballet or the LS TC Pro feel reasonably stiff in the toe area and fit my feet well, so they have become my shoes of choice. For indoors I also have a pair of LS Solutions, whose rather aggressive downturn supports my toes quite well, but the shoes are not comfortable enough for multi pitch (and yes, I am a gear whore...). 

If you can read German or find someone to translate for you, there is a blog that tells you everything you never wanted to know about hallux valgus/rigidus and climbing shoe choice but were eventually forced to find out:


NottsRich on 12 Jul 2018
In reply to cb294:

The LS TC Pro looks worth a look for sure, but it comes at a price! Worth it if it works. I'll have a read of the German link too - at first glance it looks really useful. Thanks.

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