Common Foot Deformities — Causes And Treatment Options
Pain is one thing. All of us deal with it at one time or another—headaches, bruises, sore shoulders or knees. You get the idea.
But when your feet literally change shape over time, developing bumps and misalignments that weren’t there before . . . Now we’re talking foot deformities.
These “deformities” are a lot more common than you’d think. For example, it’s estimated that about one in three American adults has a bunion on at least one foot. And that’s just one possible deformity irritating irregularity!
Some of the ones seen most often include:
- Bunions. If you’re not sure what a bunion is, imagine a giant bump on the inside of your foot, along the base of your big toe. Then imagine your big toe pushing into, or over, your second toe. That’s a bunion. (Also, if you imagine it on your smallest toe instead of your big toe, that’s a bunionette.)
- Hammertoes. In this condition, the tendon and muscle pairs responsible for straightening your toes become weak and unbalance, causing them to stay in a contracted position. The joints start out flexible, but becomes rigid (and more uncomfortable) as time passes. Hammertoes are the most common “curled toe” deformity, but related conditions include mallet toes (only the last toe joint is bent) and claw toes (all joints bent, usually due to a neurological disorder).
- Flat feet. Many people are born with flat feet (or never develop a proper arch), and they may or may not experience any pain from it. For others, the arch flattens over time, usually due to wear, tear, and overuse in the tendon or tendons responsible for supporting the arch. This is usually painful and can lead to further complications.
These foot abnormalities are linked in other ways. One is a shared set of risk factors.
Although we can’t always say with 100% certainty what caused your deformity, there are a handful of potential culprits that tend to be lurking under the surface in a significant percentage of cases:
- Genetics. Many foot deformities run in families. You might inherit flat feet, or other structural weaknesses in your feet that make you more likely to develop a bunion or hammertoe over time.
- Footwear. Poor shoes don’t necessarily cause deformities, but they can definitely exacerbate them! Shoes that lack proper support and cushioning, or force your toes into a cramped toe box, can lead to earlier development and faster progression of all kinds of foot deformities.
- Injuries. Most deformities are linked to the destabilization of a particular joint, or a failure of a particular set of bones, tendons, or ligaments. Direct damage to those structures (i.e. from stubbing a toe, tearing a tendon, dropping something on your foot, etc.) can hasten the development of related deformities.
Another way these unrelated conditions are often linked is the way they progress—and the way we treat them.
The bad news: 1. Bony foot deformities tend to get worse over time. 2. Surgery is the way to reverse whatever damage or deformations are already present. You can’t “stretch” or “massage” a bunion bump away, or a curled toe back into position.
The good news: surgery isn’t always necessary in every case. In fact, Sierra Foot & Ankle takes a conservative-first approach to just about all foot and ankle concerns.
What does that look like?
With regard to foot deformities, let’s first determine what (if any) non-surgical options we have that will allow you to perform daily tasks and favorite hobbies and activities fully, without pain. These may also slow the rate at which the deformity progresses, helping to delay any surgery as long as possible.
The specific procedures recommended will depend on the extent of the disfigurement. That said, custom orthotics are often part of the remedy to alleviate pain and discomfort—especially for flat feet and bunions, where supporting the arch and averting pressure away from weak joints can significantly improve conditions.
When conservative treatments can no longer keep you moving and enjoying your lifestyle the way you want, we’ll be ready and willing to discuss surgery options.
Dr. Victoria Melhuish is a board-certified and experienced surgeon, is well-trained in multiple effective surgical techniques for reconstructive foot surgeries, and will work with you to develop a surgical plan that fits your condition and needs.
Our friendly staff will also make sure you’re fully educated on pre- and post-surgical care requirements so that you understand your responsibilities, are prepared for what’s coming, and can take great care of yourself while you’re on the mend!
We’re still guessing you would rather avoid surgery if possible. Therefore, when you notice your feet are starting to change shape, make an appointment to see us in Carson City. The earlier you see us, the more options we’ll have to treat you successfully!
Our mission is to keep our patients continuing to enjoy the things they love to do. Give Sierra Foot & Ankle a call at (775) 783-8037, or contact us online!