What Is Hallux Valgus? - Definition, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Hallux valgus is the medical term used for a bunion. Read this lesson to learn what a bunion is, what causes one to form, and what the symptoms and potential treatment options are. Bunions affect many people, so keep reading!

What Is Hallux Valgus?

Hallux valgus is the medical term for a bunion. A bunion is a bump that forms on the side of the foot near the big toe, and can form on the ball of the foot as well. Bunions don't spontaneously appear; rather, they develop slowly over time and indicate a change in the underlying formation of the foot as the bones realign. In essence, a bunion is a deformity in the foot.

Hallux valgus, or a bunion, results from the bones of the foot moving into an unnatural position.

What Causes Hallux Valgus?

What happens to cause the foot to change so dramatically? Often, the formation of bunions is hereditary, meaning it's passed down in families. It's possible that a genetic mutation in foot shape could make some people predisposed to developing bunions.

But that's not the only possible cause! Improperly fitting footwear (too tight, too small) can also cause bunions to develop. Shoes that force the toes to bend in an unnatural position for long periods of time can lead to bunion formation, particularly when the natural shape of the foot predisposes a person to bunion development. Wearing high-heeled shoes has earned a bad reputation for causing bunions.

Finally, arthritis can increase the likelihood of bunions forming.

Hallux Valgus Symptoms

In addition to the physically altered appearance of the foot, what types of symptoms occur? Well, the most common include pain, inflammation, and skin redness around the site. This intensifies when wearing ill-fitting footwear. In some cases, numbness, burning, or tingling may also occur around the bunion (obviously, these are not fun!). As the deformity worsens, walking can become difficult. As the shape of the foot changes, weight distribution also changes, and this can take some getting used to.

Treating Hallux Valgus

Now that we know how painful bunions can be, how can they be treated? The most important treatment is to wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes that give the toes room to rest in a natural position. Many shoe stores even have a stretching option to widen some types of shoes, giving the foot more room. Inserts, or 'bunion-pads' can be placed in the shoe to cushion the amount of rubbing the foot does on the side of the shoe. Over-the-counter pain relievers and lifestyle changes (not standing for long periods of time) may also help manage bunion symptoms like pain and inflammation. In some situations, a custom-made orthopedic device can be made and inserted into the shoe to help prevent the bunion from getting worse.

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