Yet another ill effect of aging: bunion and hammer toe

Don't us women have all the luck? As men age, they get distinguished gray hair, promotions at work and younger ladies still find them attractive. As women age, we get wrinkles, bunions and hammer toe.

Earlier this year, researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia released a damning study for many aging women. The team of scientists examined the foot health of more than 2,800 individuals and found that 36 percent of them had some degree of hallux valgus, otherwise known as the dreaded bunion. Moreover, the bony deformity was found to occur most often in women and appeared to advance with age.

Lovely. Oh, and did I mention that the researchers also found that bunions can have a negative impact on an individual's quality of life? This happens when the big toe leans so far toward its smaller counterparts that it causes hammer toe: a condition characterized by toes taking on a claw-like formation. The two conditions combined can have a major impact on mobility, not to mention a woman's ability to wear pretty shoes.

"Our findings indicate that hallux valgus is a significant and disabling musculoskeletal condition that affects overall quality of life," said lead researcher. "Interventions to correct or slow the progression of the deformity offer patients beneficial outcomes beyond merely localized pain relief."

So, what are these interventions? Well, they range from non-invasive bunion splints or orthotics to the very painful, costly bunion surgery.

Bunion splints and orthotics work by ensuring proper distribution of pressure on the foot, which can take some of the stress off of the metatarsal joint. Additionally, splints hold the joint of the big toe in place, reversing the outward movement of the bunion. Orthotics can be especially helpful when it comes to treating hammer toe, since they can coax the baby toes into a straighter position.

What about bunion surgery, you ask? The operation is really only recommended for individuals who have severely hindered mobility as a result of their bunions. The procedure can sometimes result in an unsightly over-correction of bunions or recurrence of the deformity, and does nothing to treat hammer toe – that's a whole other surgery altogether. Additionally, as with all operations, patients risk infection and further pain.  

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