No two feet are alike! Every person has their own unique foot shape, and those shapes can change over the course of your life in ways large and small, based on how they were formed and how they’re used.
While a wide variety of shapes can be considered “normal,” a foot deformity can emerge over time, dramatically altering the profile of your feet and leading to pain, difficulty walking or wearing shoes, and other problems. These are issues you’ll want treated to avoid long-term, chronic discomfort.
Types of Foot Deformities
The two most common cases we see in our office are bunions and hammertoes:
- A bunion is a bony enlargement that occurs on the inside of the foot at base of the big toe. The size of the bump gradually increases over time, while the big toe drifts further and further out of alignment, pressing up against the second toe. These misshapen joints can often make it difficult to find shoes that fit or to walk without pain.
- A hammertoe (or related conditions such as a claw toe or mallet toe) is a toe stuck in a “bent” position at one or more of the joints. In the early stages the joints may still be flexible, but eventually they become rigid. Hammertoes can also make it difficult to find comfortable shoes or walk without pain, and friction between the tops or tips of the toes. Your shoes can lead to irritation, calluses, or blisters.
Other foot deformities we may see at our office include adult-acquired flatfoot (arches collapse over time due to repetitive stress), tailor’s bunions (also known as bunionettes, which occur at the base of the pinky toe), hallux limitus, floating toe and other conditions.
How and Why Deformities Occur
Most deformities that occur later in life (including those mentioned above) feature genetic, mechanical, and lifestyle components.
Certain foot structures inherited from parents and ancestors are simply more likely to lead to problems. Your feet have to cushion, balance, distribute impact forces, and propel you with every step you take, and some feet are simply better at it than others due to the way they’re configured. Over time, excess pressure at the base of the great toe or hallux can gradually push it out of alignment, beginning a bunion. If your mother or grandmother had one, there’s a good chance you will, too. So, at your next family reunion, look around and see if you’re in trouble.
At the same time, certain lifestyle choices—particularly wearing high-heeled or narrow pointed shoes frequently—can accelerate the destabilization process. Such footwear increases the magnitude of forces on the front of the foot and even alters the way you walk, greatly increasing the likelihood of a problem. Remember that these problems typically wait until the 3rd or 4th decade of life to show up.