What to Do About Yoga, Sprinting and Hallux Limitus Toe Pain

Sit back, get comfortable, and let’s talk toes!

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I haven’t had a lot of problems with my hallux limitus recently because I don’t run as often as I used to. Interestingly (that is, if you find toes at all compelling), my left toe joint doesn’t bother me when I run sprints, whereas steady-state running causes it to get red, bulbous and angry like Trump after too much time in the tanning bed. So, if you’re someone who runs on occasion and has a hallux limitus problem, try doing sprints with walking intervals. Sprints are better for fat loss, too.

Quick side note…here’s my favorite sprint workout:

  • sprint 20 seconds, walk until your heart rate comes down
  • sprint 30 seconds, walk until your heart rate comes down
  • sprint 40 seconds, walk until your heart rate comes down
  • sprint 60 seconds, walk until your heart rate comes down
  • repeat until you reach 20 minutes (I aim for four rounds, but usually get 3 or 3.5)

In addition to sprinting and lifting weights, my husband and I recently started a beginner Vinyasa yoga course at a local studio. I am really enjoying it, but my hallux limitus toe…not so much.

Luckily, the instructor is awesome and showed me some ways to work around the annoying hallux limitus I have going on in my left big toe. Here are a couple of the poses that were bothering it, and how I am adapting the poses:

4 Limb Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

This pose is similar to a plank, except you are down in the low portion of a push-up with your elbows close to your torso. Obviously, your feet seem like they would be flexed with your toes supporting some of your weight. As it turns out, though, you should actually be on the tip of your toes–like a ballerina.

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I know that seems difficult and super ouchie (technical mom term), but it is actually better for my lame, inflexible toe joint. Most of your weight, I learned, is supposed to be supported by your core and upper body. Your toes are really only involved for stabilization purposes.

Hallux limitus and yoga
4 Limb Staff pose on the tips of my freakish, big toes.

I know being on the tips of your toes sounds hard, but if you focus on supporting yourself with your core and upper body, you will discover that being on the ends of your toes is actually just fine. Just make sure your nails are trimmed if you’re one of those people who likes long toenails. Also, ew. No.

Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana) and Variations

Toey doesn’t likey. (I watch too many David Spade movies.) I figured this pose would be a problem because I have issues in other workouts when doing lunges and switch jumps. In the Crescent Lunge and also the Revolved Crescent Lunge (plus other variations I have yet to learn, I’m sure), the foot is flexed with the heel and the ball of the foot in line in a vertical position. Basically, the heel should be pointed up toward the ceiling.

Yoga and Hallux Limitus
How the back heel should look. (If you have a normal toe, you will have more flex at the ball of the foot and you won’t have your right knee tracking past your ankle–I simply can’t do it because of the toe joint).

But my yoga instructor said that with my hallux limitus, my left heel will have to be pointed back and my foot will be more at an angle than up and down like it should be. And he said that’s totally okay.

Hallux limitus and yoga
How I have to do the pose with the hallux limitus in my big left toe. Notice my left heel pointing back instead of up. But my right knee is in line with my ankle and I’m sitting into the pose better.

He emphasized that we are all built different and we need to accommodate our body’s structural differences.

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It has been my experience, so far, that even though my hallux limitus flares up a little bit after yoga, it is nowhere near as painful as after something like a half or full marathon. And because I have some other health issues that are keeping me from running very long distances these days, I don’t have to worry about it as much.

Buuuuut, if you insist on distance running, read my post on self-treatment options for runners with hallux limitus.

This has been Toe Talk with Kerrie. Good night and good luck toe you. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

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7 Self-Treatment Options for Runners Cursed with Hallux Limitus (Like I Am)

7 Self-Treatment Options for Runners with Hallux Limitus | Mom vs. Marathon
Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Half Marathon aftermath. Can you see the bump over my left toe joint?

My big toe problem used to just be annoying. Now it is troubling…well, enough so that I looked up my symptoms on Pinterest. Surprisingly, it was easy to self-diagnose the pain in my big toe.

The pain in my big toe joint is called Hallux Limitus. I swear this is really a curse from the Harry Potter series.

So What is Hallux Limitus?

Hallux Limitus is an arthritic condition of the big toe (aka the Hallux, yeah I looked that up). The cartilage in the big toe joint that attaches the big toe to the foot is gone, or mostly gone. The joint bones and the tissue surrounding them become irritated over time from the grinding of the joints.

After a while, a bone spur can develop on top of the joint. The toe also loses flexibility. Sadly, I think this has happened to me.

If you have this, then you know Hallux Limitus can cause problems for a runner.

Just ask Sanya Richards-Ross.

The Olympic champion sprinter suffered from the more advanced version of Hallux Limitus called Hallux Rigidus, where the joint refuses to bend anymore. She had surgery last fall to alleviate the pain.

Sanya Richards-Ross Hallux Rigidus - Self-treatment options for Hallux Limitus | Mom vs. Marathon
Sanya Richards-Ross after toe surgery last fall. Click photo for source.

Knowing someone of her ability has a problem like this makes me feel a ton better in a strange way.

Hallux Limitus and Runners

As a runner with Hallux Limitus or Rigidus, you will unconsciously change your stride in order to avoid pushing off of your big toe. But that’s precisely where a runner should push off. Instead, you turn your foot to push off the smaller toes, which not only results in a less powerful stride, but also causes ankle, heel, knee, hip and lower back problems.

Yay. I have all of those on my left side.

Signs and Symptoms to Watch For

Signs of Hallux Limitus usually come on slowly over time. According to this article, “The pain can be mild and temporary or deep, sharp, and chronic. Typically it is a deep, aching type of pain. In some cases, bunions or bone spurs develop at the joint and cause additional pain. When the big toe is not in use, symptoms tend to diminish.”

Symptoms of Hallux Limitus can include:

-Pain in the big toe joint during weight-bearing movement (ahem, running)

-A grating or grinding feeling in the toe joint

-Development of a bone spur

-Limited flexibility and stiffness of the big toe

-Difficulty wearing high heels or flexible shoes (ahem, flip flops, ahem, minimalist running shoes)

-Tightness around the big toe joint

-Inflammation, swelling and redness of the big toe joint (especially on top — oh, hi, this is me)

-Pain in the ankle, knee, hip or lower back on the same side as the big toe that is bothering you (from changing your gait)

-This podiatrist explains all about Hallux Limitus in this video really well.

Hallux Limitus is not to be confused with bunions (which are generally on the side of the big toe) or gout, which is usually a sudden pain that comes on at the base of the big toe. Also, can we get a new word for bunions? One of my least favorite words.

How to Keep Running with Hallux Limitus

I don’t know about you, but a little pain in my big toe isn’t going to keep me from running. But there are ways to minimize the discomfort. (Please note that this post includes affiliate links. Thank you for your support!)

Here treatment options so you can keep running and manage your Hallux Limitus without a doctor:

-Ice the swollen area

-Take a couple days off (hahaha!)

-Shoes with a wider toe box and stiffer soles (Hokas? I have Altras, which have a wonderfully wide toe box, but the soles are too minimal for this condition. In related news, anyone want to buy some used Altra Intuitions? Under 20 miles on ’em.)

-Rocker-soled shoes (oh, hale no)

-Shoe inserts for Hallux Limitus (the Vasyli Howard Dananberg Orthotic is supposed to be good and you can find it on Amazon)

-Vitamin I (Ibuprofin) – I’d save this for really painful, swollen days; don’t kill your kidneys

-Mobility exercises – Go here for Hallux Limitus exercises (these align with what my PT was doing for my toe over a year ago).

-Check out this book — Anatomy for Runners on Kindle or paperback by Jay Dicharry helped teach me about self massage (and flossing the area).

After you’ve/I’ve tried these treatment options, if they aren’t working, it’s probably time to see a podiatrist. My advice: Try to find one that’s a runner. They understand us crazies.

Here are some ways a podiatrist can help your Hallux Limitus:

  • Cortisone shot, which CAN help for up to a year
  • Surgery (shaving off the bone spur that developed from Hallux Limitus or Rigidus, altering the joint, joint replacement, etc.)

I’m going to try to manage mine on my own for a few months, but if it doesn’t get better, I suppose I’ll go ask for a cortisone shot. A few years ago, I had cortisone shots in the bottom of my left foot for neuromas and I haven’t needed one since. Sometimes, the area just needs a little time to heal itself.

Do you have Hallux Limitus or Rigidus? How do you manage it? Shoe suggestions?