My 23-year old son developed a problem with his big toe playing high school football. The doctor calls this "hallux limitus." It's been over five years and he still has pain, swelling, and loss of motion. Does this happen very often? What can be done about it?

The big toe is at risk for sprains and injury from overuse and especially from jamming the joint when pushing off the ground or running. Hallux limitus is the name given to this condition. It's very common, especially among running and jumping athletes.

Chronic pain and loss of motion and function are reported in at least half of all athletes with this problem. Symptoms lasting five years or more after the injury are also common. Once the toe loses its normal range of motion, the center of movement shifts. This causes even more jamming of the first toe.

The toe can start to get bone spurs, joint damage, and even become fused together. Early treatment is best, but it may not be too late for your son. Physical therapy should be tried first. If that fails to relieve symptoms, surgery may be needed. After this much time, surgery may give pain relief, but may not restore full motion.