What is a bunion? This deformity of the big toe is more than unsightly, though. The technical diagnosis of “hallux valgus” relates to the unusual angle taken by the metatarsal-phalangeal joint (the bottom joint of the big toe). Because the big toe points toward its neighboring toe, over time, the increased stress on the metatarsal-phalangeal joint results in inflammation, redness, and joint pain. The inflammation is more than apparent; bunions often involve enlargement of the bone and tissue around the joint, causing the tissues surrounding the base of the big toe to be swollen and tender.
Millions of women suffer from this condition; in fact, up to 50 percent of women are at risk for developing bunions. Men, by contrast, are far less likely to have this kind of issue. There are two main reasons for the fact that bunions oppress the female population far more than the males:
- Differences in hip angle and strength
- Women’s Shoe Fashions
Hip Angle and Strength
While it may seem counter-intuitive to think of the hips as the culprits in toe concerns, it actually makes good physiological sense. Because women tend to have broader pelvises than men, their alignment is different, as well. The angle of the knees’ alignment can often give the appearance of being “knock-kneed,” or having the knees turn inward. As a result, the feet, in turn, also tend to turn inward, causing more weight and pressure toward the big toe during both standing and walking.
In order to decrease the amount of pressure on the knees and feet, women can work on strengthening the hip-supporting muscles, such as the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus. Exercises that can help these muscles abound and can be found through a physical therapist or trainer.
Fashionable Shoe Styles
In addition to biological tendencies toward bunions, women’s shoe fashions also contribute to the disproportionate number of women who suffer from bunions. The narrow toe boxes of most women’s dress shoes—and especially high-heeled shoes—provide inadequate space for toe functionality. Such tight quarters squeeze and stress the toes, causing the big toe to turn inward and can also push the small toe toward the center of the foot. (The deformity of the smallest toe is sometimes called a “bunionette.”)
The remedy to this kind of stress is simple: Don’t wear high heels or shoes with tight toe boxes. Thankfully, following this advice while retaining a feminine and stylish appearance is getting easier, with many fashion-forward looks boasting more comfortable low heels and more roomy toe boxes.
When a bunion has already begun and is causing pain, nonsurgical or surgical treatments may be necessary. Nonsurgical options include bunion pads, custom-designed orthotics, and felt or moleskin patches. Icing and elevating the foot can also help relieve pain and swelling, as can over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. When bunion pain keeps people from being able to perform normal activities, surgical treatment can help restore your toe joint’s alignment and give you the relief you need.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com.