The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Osteoarthritis and Hallux Rigidus or “Chef’s Foot”: A Recipe for Relief

Posted by on Tuesday, January 8th, 2013


Chefs are some of the shoe industry’s toughest customers. They need footwear that will go the distance, through 12-hour days on slippery floors. Terrance Brennan, chef and owner of Picholine on the Upper West Side, spends several hundred dollars a month in search of the perfect work shoes. He tries on eight or nine pairs before deciding on one, and if they cause even the slightest amount of pain after his 14-hour shift, he gives them away and starts over. The last thing a busy chef wants to worry about is his feet. But in a profession where many of the most talented individuals are older, seasoned masters, the rigors of the work combined with age-related osteoarthritis often result in painful and debilitating foot disorders. One of the most common: Hallux Rigidus.



Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting over 27 million Americans. About 1 in 2 people will develop symptomatic osteoarthritis in their lifetime. This is bad news for everyone, but it’s particularly troublesome for a person who makes his living on his feet. In fact, osteoarthritis Hallux Rigidus is so common in the culinary world it’s commonly referred to as “chef’s foot.”



Hallux Rigidus isn’t an infamous Roman general, it’s a stiffening of the big toe, a result of arthritis in the metatarso-phalangeal or MTP joint. The problem begins when the joint’s cartilage thins, eventually resulting in bone-on-bone contact and painful stiffening (if you’re lucky, you might even feel the bones grinding against each other… exciting, right?) Of course, the big toe is extremely important: you push off of that toe with every step. If you can’t flex your big toe joint, your whole body has to compensate, stressing your ankles, knees, and hips. If you’re trying to pivot on a slippery floor amidst a chaos of sous chefs, boiling cauldrons, and steam, a stiff toe joint can transform a graceful arc into a wobbly disaster. Grace and dexterity are critical in a busy kitchen. Without them soup spills; delicate compotes skitter; and cooked ducks seem, for a brief and terrible moment, to have remembered how to fly.



So how does a master chef manage Hallux Rigidus?

  • Wear shoes with plenty of room for your big toe.
  • If you catch your Hallux Rigidus early, you’re in luck. Your recovery time will be significantly shorter and you may be able to treat the condition with orthotics, anti-inflammatories, and rest. Physical therapy is also helpful for many minor cases. Contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) as soon as you notice symptoms.
  • If your condition is more advanced, you may need surgery. The surgeon will remove any bone spurs that are causing pain and inhibiting movement. In severe cases, you may receive a replacement joint. Joint fusion is also a possibility. It won’t restore movement but it will significantly reduce pain.

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.