What Are Bunions and Hammertoes Deformities?
A bunion is a bone deformity caused by an enlargement of the joint at the base and side of the big toe (metatarsophalangeal joint). Bunions form when the toe moves out of place. The enlargement and its protuberance cause friction and pressure as they rub against footwear. Over time, the movement of the big toe angles in toward the other toes, sometimes overlapping a third toe (known as Hallux Valgus). The growing enlargement or protuberance then causes more irritation or inflammation. In some cases, the big toe moves toward the second toe and rotates or twists, which is known as Hallus Abducto Valgus. Bunions can also lead to other toe deformities, such as hammertoe.
Many people with bunions suffer from discomfort and pain from the constant irritation, rubbing, and friction of the enlargement against shoes. The skin over the toe becomes red and tender. Because this joint flexes with every step, the bigger the bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Over time, bursitis or arthritis may set in, the skin on the bottom of the foot may become thicker, and everyday walking may become difficult—all contributing to chronic pain.
Wearing shoes that are too tight is the leading cause of bunions. Bunions are not hereditary, but they do tend to run in families, usually because of a faulty foot structure. Foot injuries, neuromuscular problems, flat feet, and pronated feet can contribute to their formation. It is estimated that bunions occur in 33 percent of the population in Western countries.
Treatment for Bunions
Because they are bone deformities, bunions do not resolve by themselves. The goal for bunion treatment is twofold: first, to relieve the pressure and pain caused by irritations, and second to stop any progressive growth of the enlargement. Commonly used methods for reducing pressure and pain caused by bunions include:
- Protective padding, often made from felt material, to eliminate the friction against shoes and help alleviate inflammation and skin problems.
- Removal of corns and calluses on the foot.
- Changing to carefully fitted footwear designed to accommodate the bunion and not contribute toward its growth.
- Orthotic devices—both over-the-counter and custom made—to help stabilize the joint and place the foot in the correct position for walking and standing.
- Exercises to maintain joint mobility and prevent stiffness or arthritis.
- Splints for nighttime wear to help the toes and joint align properly. This is often recommended for adolescents with bunions, because their bone development may still be adaptable.
Depending on the size of the enlargement, misalignment of the toe, and pain experienced, conservative treatments may not be adequate to prevent progressive damage from bunions. In these cases, bunion surgery, known as a bunionectomy, may be advised to remove the bunion and realign the toe.
Hammertoe is a deformity of the second, third, or fourth toes. In this condition, the toe is bent at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. Left untreated, hammertoes can become inflexible and require surgery. People with hammertoe may have corns or calluses on the top of the middle joint of the toe or on the tip of the toe. They may also feel pain in their toes or feet and have difficulty finding comfortable shoes.
Causes of hammertoe include improperly fitting shoes and muscle imbalance.
Treatment for the condition typically involves wearing shoes with soft, roomy toe boxes and toe exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles. Commercially available straps, cushions, or nonmedicated corn pads may also relieve symptoms.
In severe cases, hammertoe surgery may be recommended to correct the deformity.
Treatment for Hammertoes
Making a few changes to the shoes you wear can ease pain and inflammation. Look for comfortable shoes that provide plenty of room for your toes, and avoid wearing high heels. Keep in mind that your shoes should be 1/2" longer than your longest toe for the most comfortable fit. Other ways to manage hammertoe symptoms include:
- Toe Exercises: Toe exercises can be very helpful if your toe is still in the flexible stage and the tendon hasn't tightened. Your foot doctor can teach you a series of exercises that will stretch and strengthen the muscles.
- Padding: Cushioning your toes with corn pads can help relieve pressure when you wear shoes.
- Orthotics: These custom-made shoe inserts are prescribed by your Montvale and Hackensack podiatrist. They evaluate the structure of your foot and gait and designs the orthotics to address your problem.
- Surgery: Although most people who have hammertoes will never need surgery, it may be the best option in some severe cases.
Hammertoe surgery can be done on an outpatient basis in the doctor's office or a surgery center using a local anesthetic, sometimes combined with sedation. The surgery takes about 15 minutes to perform. Up to four small incisions are made and the tendons are rebalanced around the toe so that it no longer curls. Patients usually can walk immediately after the surgery wearing a special surgical shoe. Minimal or no pain medication is needed following the surgery.
Icing and elevation of the foot is recommended during the first week following the procedure to prevent excessive swelling and promote healing. It is also important that the dressing be kept clean and dry to prevent infection. Two weeks after the surgery, the sutures are removed and a wide athletic shoe can replace the post-operative surgical shoe. Patients can then gradually increase their walking and other physical activities.
For more information on Bunions and Hammertoes, call our Hackensack and Montvale Podiatry offices at (201) 488-3668 now!