The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Aging Professors Schooled by Hallux Rigidus

Posted by on Wednesday, February 6th, 2013


Being a college professor isn’t the glamorous life it used to be. Sure, it still has its perks—summer vacations, opportunities for research, spending time with a young and vibrant population—but it’s not all roses and spring time. For one thing, keeping students engaged is much more challenging now that they’ve got cell phones strapped to their palms 24×7. While mobile technology might be a huge boon for business, it’s a huge pain for educators, especially older educators who may feel disconnected from the technology and it’s allure. And then there’s the economy and job market. Colleges everywhere, especially state schools, are cutting programs right and left. They’re negotiating stricter terms on teacher contracts, bringing long-term professors to part-time status, and cutting retirement benefits. Add to this a difficult economic climate in which many professionals have lost savings, and you have a recipe for hard times.

Despite feeling disconnected and ready for retirement, professors are holding on to their jobs for dear life, unable to retire because of debt, medical bills, and other financial concerns. As a result, they’re aging bodies are starting to catch up with them during long lectures at the blackboard. One of the most common age-related foot problems: Hallux rigidus.


Despite what it sounds like, Hallux rigidus is not an ancient Roman emperor. It literally translates to “stiff big toe.” Actually it’s a stiffness in the big toe joint (the metatarso-phalangeal or MTP joint). It’s the result of degenerative arthritis, severe wear and tear on the joint’s cartilage. It typically occurs in older people, particularly people who have played a lot of sports (turf toe, a common football and soccer injury, is often a precursor to hallux rigidus.) But, it can also rear its ugly head in younger patients, though they usually have a genetic predisposition to the disorder.



Don’t underestimate the importance of that big toe joint! Balance, gait, and skeletal alignment depend on a functioning MTP joint. Without it, walking can be difficult, let alone standing for long periods of time in front of a room full of students. The condition may also be very painful, pain that may be aggravated by cold or damp weather (hello, September classes). Sufferers often have difficulty with physical activities like running or squatting. Look out for:

  • Pain and stiffness in your MTP joint.
  • Swelling around the joint.

In more advanced stages you may experience:

  • Difficulty wearing shoes.
  • Pain during rest.
  • Dull pain in the knee, hip, or back due to changes in your gait.
  • Limping.



For a professor (in anyone, for that matter), this condition warrants very early treatment since in more advanced stages standing for extended periods may be impossible. The good news: most full-time professors have excellent health insurance that will cover early intervention. In addition to taking steps to protect your joint from getting worse (sitting as much as possible, wearing comfortable shoes, and icing your joint), you should visit a podiatrist (try The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900). With early treatment you may be able to avoid surgery by using orthotic devices and medications, or by undergoing injection therapy and physical therapy.



If your condition is severe and your range of motion is seriously impaired, surgery may be your best option. Surgery may involve the removal of bony spurs that are impeding joint movement, replacing the joint, or fusing the joint. Joint fusion is a bit of a last resort: it won’t help with mobility but will likely relieve pain. Read a patient’s story here and another here. Recovery may be slow, but in many cases it can dramatically improve your quality of life (and your time in the classroom).


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.