YOUR HEALTH: New toe joint eases pain

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PITTSBURGH – For people with severe arthritis in their toe joints, surgery has been one of the only options to relieve chronic pain.

Fusion is a last resort.

Surgeons now have a new option to relieve pain and keep patients on their feet.

Logan Snyder was a standout high school athlete, racking up awards and landing a college softball scholarship. However, pain in her toes became unbearable.

“Anytime that I would put weight on my toes, when they would bend back is when it would hurt, which is pretty much constantly,” she said.

Doctors performed multiple surgeries to relieve pressure from what’s called Hallux Rigidis, a rigid big toe.

“We see it a lot in people who are on the front of their toes, whether it’s dance, whether it’s gymnastics, whether it’s running," said Dr. Victor Prisk, an orthopedic surgeon at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Prisk knew that fusing the joint would eliminate the pain, but would also limit motion.

Instead he recommended a newly-approved flexible toe joint implant called Cartiva.

“It’s made up of a material called polyvinyl alcohol. It’s very similar to the material that would be used to make contact lenses, said Dr. Prisk.”

Doctors open up the top of the toe exposing the head of the joint, then they insert the implant.

“It almost acts like a bumper in your joint. Just like your cartilage would.”

Snyder felt the difference as soon as she started moving her big toe.

“The change is that I can feel how far back it can get. It’s crazy compared to other surgeries.”

Last year pain forced Snyder to quit softball. Now she’s working to get back in shape without pain.

“That’s what I’m aiming for, and I really hope to get there,” said Snyder.

The FDA approved Cartiva last July.  Dr. Prisk said it’s recommended for patients who do not have gout, and don’t have severe toe deformities.

TREATMENTS: Different types of treatments exist to treat toe arthritis. These will vary depending on the severity of the pain and the overall health of the patient. Some home treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories
  • Ice packs
  • Choosing the right footwear. Avoid high heels, tight shoes, and pointy toe shoes.
  • Healthy diet since extra weight can stress the bones of the feet

Other forms of treatment include:

  • Special shoes
  • Steroids injected directly into the joint
  • Surgery can be performed in severe cases with a fusion procedure or an arthroplasty once other treatments have not lead to any results

(Source: & Dr. Victor Prisk)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at