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Monday, December 3, 2018

Problems post Big Toe Joint Fusion: Email Advice

Dear Dr. Blake,

I was referred to you by Stephen Pribut (podiatrist in the Washington, DC. area).  He said you may be able to respond to my questions by email and offer suggestions for a course of action.

I am writing to request your opinion on the problems I am having with the fusion of my left big toe.  I know this is not an examination but I believe you can address a couple of specific questions I have described below.

In May 2017 I had my left big toe fused due to hallux rigidus.  Once I started trying to walk, I felt significant pain underneath the last joint of the big toe.  There is no pain at the MTP joint.  For the last 18 months, I have been trying to determine the cause of the pain with no success.  The surgeon says the fusion is okay. 

In June 2018, I got 2nd opinions.  I was told either the angle of the toe was fused too low or the hardware was to blame.  I didn't want to redo the fusion so I had the hardware removed.  This did not solve the problem.
Dr. Blake's comment: This is not uncommon, but a pesty complication where the big toe is not fused high enough so the end of the toe becomes the low point when pushing off and takes all your body weight. You can rebreak and refuse or design orthotics to off weight the point to distribute the force. Most choose the orthotic or padding option. 

I came across the chapter attached discussing complications of the fusion.  My symptoms mirror exactly the situation where the toe was fused too plantarflexed or too low.  If you look at the upper of the HOKA rocker shoe I've been wearing, it is evident that my midfoot to the 5th toe is bending over to the outside.  Then, as I walk, I pronate and roll over the foot to the inside trying to avoid the end of the toe.  I have a large callous on the side of the toe as a result.  I have tried but now realize I can not really feel the ball of my foot/MTP joint touch the ground.  So, when I toe off, all the force is on the end of the toe.  It looks like the xray shown in the chapter - Figure 2A and 2B, p117.

I would appreciate your comments on 2 items:

1. I had a gait analysis on November 19, 2018.  The graph is in the attachment while other data is copied below.  I believe the graph/image supports an over plantarflexion of the left big toe.  I know this is not a formal examination but please can you tell me what you see from the graph/image? Dr. Blake's comment: Yes, that is how it looks.  
I would note my right foot looks more normal to me even though I had some scar tissue excised on the 2nd and 3rd toes just 2 weeks ago.  It is little stiff but no pain like I experience with every step with my left foot.

2.  Noting the pronation of my left ankle, the physical therapist believes that might be a cause.  I have always had some pronation but I have never had pain under my toe until this fusion.  I believe the pronation is now exaggerated because the midfoot is rolling to the outside which it never did before.  So the ankle has to roll farther to the inside to get me over the toes.
The pt suggests a medial wedge.  I think this may make the midfoot problem worse.  What do you think?
Dr. Blake's comment: Yes, a medial wedge will just throw you out and mess everything up from more constant supination. Typically it is a balancing act of some lateral support so not to supinate at all, and some off weight-bearing padding on a full-length orthotic device to take pressure away from the point of pressure in the gait image. 

He taped the inside of my calf/heel as a test and that caused pain just below the knee on the inside.
All the modifications to shoes, orthotics, etc. to avoid the big toe only make foot mechanics worse, not better, in my opinion.
Dr. Blake's comment: You are on the right track. You need stability with weight spread out on the big toe, just not on the sore spot. After a fusion, the benefit is to have this stable big toe joint that is not painful and can accept all this weight. At least by theory. So, you want a stable orthotic that loads 90% of the big toe, not off weights the big toe. 

I would be most grateful for your opinion on these 2 matters.  It is looking like I will need to get the fusion redone.  I want to make that decision with the benefit of all the information I can obtain.  It is difficult when there will be opposing views.  My goal is to return to downhill skiing and hiking if I can.  Three years ago I was playing tennis too.  Now, I can't go for a walk because of the pain in the foot and related hip and lower back issues.
Thanking you in advance for your help, Good Luck!!

Dr. Blake's comment: 

I am just back from Hong Kong, visiting my son and his family so my response will be influenced by jet lag to some degree. First of all, thank you and Stephen for contacting me. The graph looks like the pressure from standing only with you having a high arch. Is it true,  and are there other graphs? Typically these problems do not need another surgery, so I am so sorry the hardware was removed. If the big toe was placed too far plantarflexed, and you can not bend the joint, you have to get orthotics that stabilize both sides of your foot and get Hoka shoes that roll. Typically you can build up the orthotic device under the big toe joint and the base of the hallux to even the pressure through that area. Most podiatrists can accomplish that. You can test that theory by getting 1/8th-inch adhesive felt from and place something like a cluffy wedge on your foot (explained in my blog). The area on the toe that is hot should not have any covering. Please take this info and ask me other questions. Rich


  1. Your thorough explanations and the way you break down complex medical concepts into simple terms is impressive. It's evident that you're not just a talented podiatrist, but a great communicator too!
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Thank you very much for leaving a comment. Due to my time restraints, some comments may not be answered.I will answer questions that I feel will help the community as a whole.. I can only answer medical questions in a general form. No specific answers can be given. Please consult a podiatrist, therapist, orthopedist, or sports medicine physician in your area for specific questions.