Primary Cause of Bunions is Not What Most People Believe

Cause of Bunions
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Bunions are one of the most common foot complaints among women of all ages, that according to research are too-often attributed to the wearing of shoes such as high heels and pumps that force the feet forward, pinching the toes against one another. As it turns out, your bunions have more to do with your parents than they do with your Christian Louboutins.

Over 4 million American are affected by bunions—a painful arthritic bone degeneration that forms inside, rather than outside the foot. Bunions manifest typically as a bony bump on the outside of the big toe, but can also form as a smaller bump on top of the joint of the big toe.

The problem with having a bunion is that unless you are wearing wide toed shoes or boots, the bunion is constantly rubbing against the material of smaller toed shoes, as well as forcing the big toe to move inward and rub against its neighboring toe. Such mechanical forces lead to the development of bursitis―a painful inflammation of the protective fluid-filled sacs around the joints.

Bunions can also lead to development of a hammertoe condition where the bunion places undue pressure on the rest of the toes causing them to twist and take on a characteristic bird’s claw appearance, which in turn causes the tops of toes to rub against a shoe and form a callus-like “corn” on top of the skin.

In a new study to be published in the medical journal Arthritis Care & Research, researchers have discovered that while wearing ill-fitting shoes can lead to bunions and other foot disorders as described above, that many people are genetically predisposed to bunions and other toe deformities.

According to a news release, their findings are the result of a Framington Foot Study consisting of 1,370 participants (57% female/43% male) with a mean age of 66. The study was designed to investigate the heritability of foot disorders using data gleaned during a 6-year period where the participants were examined for foot disorders that included bunions (hallux valgus), lesser toe deformities and plantar soft tissue atrophy.

The data collected from the foot exams was then analyzed using genetic pedigree analysis software that estimated the heritability of their foot conditions and disorders.

What the researchers found was that:

• The prevalence of bunions, lesser toe deformities and plantar soft tissue atrophy was 31%, 30% and 28%, respectively.

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• Bunions and lesser toe deformity, two of the most common structural foot disorders that affect up to half of older adults in the U.S. and Europe, were found to be highly heritable depending on age and sex.

• Plantar soft tissue atrophy did not demonstrate significant heritability in the study cohort.

"Our study is the largest investigation of the heritability of common foot disorders in older adults, confirming that bunions and lesser toe deformities are highly inheritable in Caucasian men and women of European descent," says lead researcher Dr. Marian Hannan from Hebrew SeniorLife and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass. "These new findings highlight the importance of furthering our understanding of what causes greater susceptibility to these foot conditions, as knowing more about the pathway may ultimately lead to early prevention or early treatment."

Until new research arrives that offers improved prevention measures for avoiding foot disorders such as bunions, current treatment you can do at home to alleviate the discomfort of bunions includes the following measures:

• Switch to shoes with a bigger toe box, or, wear sandals that leave the bunion area exposed.

• Apply ice to the bunion(s) several times a day.

• Try soaking your feet in a mixture of one cup of vinegar to one gallon of warm water.

• Pad the insides of shoes with moleskin to decrease friction from rubbing or apply foam rubber cut into a doughnut shape with the hole aligned over the bunion.

For more information about foot problems related to the shoes you wear and what you can do to prevent foot pain, click on this very informative article titled “What Women Do to their Feet in the Name of Fashion.”

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: "Hallux Valgus and Lesser Toe Deformities are Highly Heritable in Adult Men and Women: the Framingham Foot Study." Arthritis Care and Research; Published Online May 20, 2013 (DOI: 10.1002/acr.22040); Marian T. Hannan, Hylton B. Menz, Joanne M. Jordan, L. Adrienne Cupples, Chia-Ho Cheng and Yi-Hsiang Hsu.

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