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Bunions Can Affect Quality of Life

Study Shows People With Bunions Report Poorer Mental and Physical Functioning
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Womans foot with bunion

Feb. 24, 2011 -- Bunions -- deformities at the base of the big toe that can cause pain and disability -- are common and can really slow a person down, a new study shows.

The study, which is published in Arthritis Care & Research, found that more than one in three older adults has at least one bunion, a hard bony bump that forms at the base of the big toe.

Bunions are thought to have a hereditary component in that they tend to run in some families. It has also been suggested that wearing shoes with elevated heels and a narrow toe-box may contribute to bunion development.

Study participants with bunions were more likely to experience pain in other parts of their body, including the hip, knee, low back, and foot. And those with the most severely deformed big toes, a condition known as hallux valgus, also had the poorest scores on measures of life quality, like social and physical functioning.

"Our findings indicate that hallux valgus is a significant and disabling musculoskeletal condition that affects overall quality of life," says Hylton Menz, an associate professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, in a news release. "Interventions to correct or slow the progression of the deformity offer patients beneficial outcomes beyond merely localized pain relief."

Who Gets Bunions?

For the study, researchers in the U.K. surveyed more than 2,800 people ages 56 and over.

Part of the survey included pictures of the left and right feet where the base of the big toe was progressively more deformed. Participants were asked to look at their own feet and pick the pictures that most closely resembled them. That helped researchers determine the severity of each person’s problem.

The study participants then were asked additional questions about their mental and physical health, pain intensity, concerns with personal appearance, and socioeconomic status and education level.

The study found that bunions were about twice as common in women as in men, and that the likelihood of having a bunion increased with age. Overall, about 28% of people ages 50 to 59 reported having bunions, compared to nearly 56% of people over age 80.

As the severity of the deformity increased, so too, did the problems associated with it.

Even after taking into account pain in other areas of the body, people with bunions still reported poorer mental and physical functioning than those without bunions.

Previous studies have shown that bunions may affect gait, balance, and increase risk of falls in older people, but researchers speculate that along with these issues, people with severe bunions may report less satisfaction with their lives because they have trouble finding shoes they like to wear.

Getting a Leg Up on Bunions

So what can be done to prevent a bunion or keep it from getting worse?

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