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What is a Bunion?

A bunion is the term for a deformity of the great toe which is also known as hallux valgus in medical terms. Typically these terms are used interchangeably, though technically the enlargement or overgrowth of bone and tissue is called a bunion. The hallux valgus deformity consists of the first phalange of the great toe over time turning outward (toward the other toes) and the first metatarsal turning inward (towards the body).

It is estimated that upwards of 64 million people in the United States have hallux valgus and that over 200,000 surgeries are performed each year to correct this deformity.1 The deformity doesn’t always cause people to have pain, however as it progresses it can impede a person’s ability to wear shoes or perform functional tasks.

There are multiple risk factors that may cause hallux valgus deformities including increased pronation and fashion shoe wear. Overtime, if this deformity is untreated it can eventually disrupt your ability to walk, due to a lack of great toe movement necessary for gait.

New research is developing to look at the ability of physical therapy and exercises to prevent further hallux valgus deformity. Exercises consisting of strengthening the intrinsic (inner) muscles of the feet may be helpful in creating appropriate foot mechanics and therefore decreasing the hallux valgus process. While these exercises will not correct the deformity, they may help to reduce the pain and associated gait impairments and even potentially decrease the need for surgery in the future. In addition to exercises, your therapist may recommend orthotics, taping, or bracing to help decrease the progression of the deformity.

1. Roddy E, Zhang W, Doherty M. Prevalence and associations of hallux valgus in a primary care population. Arthritis Rheum. 2003; 59: 857-862.

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