Painful Big Toes

What are Bunions? 

Bunions are lumps that appear on the side of your big toe joint. They are usually hard, but can develop a soft painful swelling of fluid under the skin when friction from shoes rubs them.

Origins of the word Bunion

The word bunion has its origins in many old european languages and means bump or lump in old French. Bunions are usually associated with a deformity of the big toe, such that it deviates from pointing straight ahead and instead angles towards the second toe. It is known by the medical term hallux valgus (or more correctly hallux abducto valgus).

How widespread in the population? 

Well known celebrity sufferers of hallux valgus include Victoria Beckham, Naomi Campbell and Nigella Lawson. Recent research has shown there are over 20 million people with hallux valgus in the UK. Both feet are affected in at least half of those cases.

About a quarter of adults aged 18 to 65 are affected, and 36% of over 65 year olds. And statistically females are affected three times more than males. Importantly, there is also an incidence in children. In a survey of 6000 Northamptonshire children, 122 (2%) were found to have hallux valgus, 87% of whom were female. 

What causes bunions?

The causes of hallux valgus are multiple and varied. As a podiatry profession we understand the vast majority of the mechanical causes of hallux valgus, with research into some of the more obscure mechanical factors ongoing.

Genetics plays a part, as is seen by a few rare cases observed in unshod races. Bone structure and position, usually inherited from our parents and grandparents, affects the way the mechanical forces of walking and running affect our feet & legs, and thus the forces taken by the first toe. 

By a long way the biggest cause is a combination of footwear and genetics acting together. Some shoes are obviously more damaging to our feet than others. Top of the list are pointed-toe shoes and high heels, which deform our feet more rapidly. But even so-called sensible round-toe flat shoes can also weaken our feet. And this is what makes the big difference. Weak feet are susceptible to injury and deformity.

Are bunions painful? 

Bunions can be excruciatingly painful, but some people do not suffer any ill effects at first. Most often, sufferers will experience varying degrees of aching, friction from their shoes, swelling, redness, inflammation, and eventually arthritis. This happens because the big toe joint absorbs much of the pressure from your weight when you walk. As the big toe deviates more & more towards the lesser toes, eventually the whole forefoot can become deformed and painful.

What can be done? 

Early intervention is obviously best, but we often get great success with more advanced cases.

We perform a thorough assessment of the underlying mechanical causes and give you an expected chance of success depending on our findings.

If the assessment indicates our treatment has a good chance of success we can:

  • teach you specific strengthening & stretching exercises
  • prescribe corrective functional foot orthoses (specialised insoles)
  • give footwear advice, and
  • occasionally advise toe splints

Steve has had great success treating hallux valgus over the last 38 years. Maybe he could help you?

If you would like more information, or wish to make an appointment for an assessment please phone our reception staff on 01326 565 565