Hallux valgus (bunion)

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A hallux valgus is the medical term for a deviation in alignment of the big toe. This involves the joint at the base of the big toe developing a sideways angle. It is also known as a bunion.

Common causes for developing a hallux valgus include:

  • Poor ankle & foot alignment (termed biomechanics) such as a flat foot posture
  • Previous ankle, foot or metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint injury
  • Degenerative change due to other conditions such as age-related osteoarthritis or rheumatoid disease
  • Repeated use of poorly-fitting footwear or everyday use of high-heeled footwear
  • There may be a genetic element, and hallux valgus sometimes runs in families

How is hallux valgus treated?

Non-surgical management
Mild hallux valgus can be managed effectively by non-invasive measures as described below.

The most effective measure is wearing the most appropriate footwear and orthotics (insoles).

Hallux valgus splint
Splints may be purchased for symptomatic relief.

Regular exercises to maintain flexibility to the ankle and foot.

Using painkillers when needed
Over-the-counter analgesia is available through pharmacies when needed. Paracetamol is most commonly prescribed. Anti-inflammatories are also used eg Ibuprofen, but as there is little or no inflammation involved in osteoarthritis these are best avoided without discussing with your GP. Side effects are even more common than with paracetamol so please ensure to take appropriate medical advice. There is a good booklet on the Versus Arthritis website with information about the various drug options.


Surgical management
There are several different types of surgery which can be performed to correct a hallux valgus. If needed, the most suitable surgery for your age, activity level and the anatomy of your joint prior to surgery will be considered. The most commonly performed surgeries are a scarf osteotomy or a chevron osteotomy both of which involve a bone cutting procedure and then realigning the deviated big toe to a straight position.

Any surgical option will usually require you to wear a heel weight-bearing shoe or boot for 6-8 weeks and you will need to use crutches, to ensure that the operated area can heal properly. You will not be able to drive during this time. Most people are not able to wear their normal footwear for about 6 months.

Surgery will only be considered in patients who:

    • Have trialled a course of non-surgical management without success
    • Have consistent, disabling pain significantly limiting mobility
    • Have a satisfactory Body Mass Index (BMI) or have made lifestyle changes to lose excess bodyweight