Definition of Hallux Valgus
Many estimates say that hallux valgus, the medical term for what is known as a bunion, afflicts one third to one half of the women in the United States. Whether or not this incredible estimate is true, there is no doubt that hallux valgus is one of the most common foot problems.
You may also be aware of a longer term, “hallux abducto valgus,” which is the more complete medical term. The actual meaning of the Latin word “hallux” is “the great toe.” The Latin word “abducto” used in this term refers to the big toe moving toward the second toe. “Valgus” refers to the inward rotation of the big toe. On this site, we are using the more common shortened version, “hallux valgus” to refer to this foot condition.
Therefore, we will say that “hallux valgus” refers to the abnormal outward turning of the bone of the big toe joint, also known as the first metatarsophalangeal joint. Most of the time, hallux valgus deformity is accompanied by soft tissue enlargement consisting of a fluid-filled sac (called a bursa) under the skin. You may also have heard the Latin term “hallux rigidus,” which is a completely different foot condition, that of having a big toe that is stiff with a very limited range of motion.
Hallux valgus symptoms show up in different ways. The most obvious symptom is the turning of the big toe toward the other toes. If you notice that your big toe isn’t straight and that it is bending toward the toe next to it, this is something that you must not ignore or assume that your big toe will straighten out on its own.
The next significant symptom is pain in the metatarsophalangeal joint at the base of the big toe, especially when wearing shoes. Almost all shoes create some degree of pressure on the forefoot, and if you have a bunion, shoes will aggravate the foot pain.
These two symptoms together are practically a guarantee that you have developed a bunion. You must now deal with the unfortunate fact that you have a hallux valgus deformity that is progressive in nature and requires your serious attention. Redness and swelling are additional symptoms of this foot disorder, although redness and swelling could be caused by other reasons, such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or damage to the skin or tendons.
If you have the above symptoms, a doctor in the field of podiatry needs to examine your foot to make a definitive diagnosis about your foot pain
Heredity definitely has a strong influence on who develops bunions. One statistic claims that over 60% of the people who have bunions have a family history of this foot problem. Just as certain physical characteristics are inherited, such as the shape of your nose, a particular foot type can be inherited. This is why you may even hear of teenagers as well as younger children having bunions. If the bone leading up to your big toe (the first metatarsal bone) is relatively short or elevated, you will roll your ankle when you walk. This, in turn, creates added pressure on the big toe joint, which can lead to abnormal bone growth and the accompanying soft tissue enlargement commonly known as a bunion.
Another factor related to heredity is flat feet. Almost all babies are born with flat feet, but most babies naturally develop arches as they grow into childhood. If your arches did not develop adequately, then you may be more likely to develop hallux valgus.
Correction of Hallux Valgus Deformity
The successful correction of hallux valgus will depend on the severity of the condition at the time you notice symptoms. In the early stages of this disorder’s development, simply changing ones’ shoes may be all that is needed. If you “catch” the bunion development at this early stage, you are fortunate, because now you will be alert to the need to reduce stress on your foot whenever possible, and to be careful about your shoes. The best shoes for bunions have a wide toe box and a low heel (no more than 2 inches). Pointed toes and spike heels have to go. Your conscious attention to the needs of your feet at this early stage may go a long way in slowing down the progression of this deformity.
Also, the treatment for bunions includes wearing bunion guards, which provide a cushion between one’s foot and the shoe. Bunion guards are worn by many people with bunions and are a quick and inexpensive aid in attaining relief from pain. You may also find that wearing orthotic inserts in your shoes, even in therapeutic shoes, helps to relieve pressure and stress on your feet.
If your bunion has advanced to the point that the pain is ongoing regardless of footwear or the application of guards or cushions, then the use of a bunion splint to aid in the correction of your big toe is advised. Wearing a bunion splint or bunion regulator at night while one is in bed sleeping is the most common use of these devices.
You can also choose a hinged bunion splint that will fit into your shoes if they are roomy and enable you to walk around. Buying a pair of bunion shoes as discussed in the paragraph above is a smart move, because many of these will accommodate hinged bunion splints. We have German technology to thank for these advanced hinged bunion splints that allow a person to keep a splint on during the day, as well as at nighttime.
Although foot doctors are divided on the effectiveness of bunion splints, many people claim that splints have made such a serious difference in their foot pain that they change their minds about the foot surgery they assumed was inevitable. But if you do elect to have foot surgery to remove your bunion, rest assured that it is almost always an outpatient procedure with a reasonable success rate. However, the recovery from hallux valgus surgery may take several weeks. If you do not follow your doctor’s orders carefully and keep down the swelling, it can take even longer, even months longer.
Remember, being proactive if you have signs of this foot problem is crucial. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor right away if you suspect that you showing signs of hallux valgus.