Hallux Varus: The anti-bunion. Thinking of bunion surgery ? This could be a complication if things go sour.
Hallux varus, when the big toe drifts medially, is a real problem. It is typically an acquired problem from a hallux valgus/bunion surgery gone awry. (This post will not delve into some of the suspected culprits of this problem including Mc Bride, Scarf, Chevron or Akin osteotomy etc but that would be some of the reader’s next steps into diving deeper into this problem. Surgical procedures to the 1st ray was one of the gait guys senior orthopedic residency thesis topics, hence we now hate this topic !).
This deformity can be rigid or flexible. This case seen in the photo walked into our office recently. These are not all that common and you won’t see many of them, but you do need to know they exist and where they can come from, how to cope with them and what issues you will need to understand (ie. footwear, talked about below) to assist your client.
Hallux varus can be painful, uncomfortable and even debilitating in some cases. Sometimes they necessitate fixation to realign the hallux bone along a more reasonable alignment with the shaft of the 1st metatarsal.
Early correction seems critical because the linear and rotational forces at work generating the deformity can eventually lead to a further progressing deformity that can be even more problematic. When left unaddressed more drastic and radical corrective interventions seem necessary, including but not limited to, resection of the base of the proximal phalanx, fusions and tendon transfers. However, newer surgical procedures are coming along proposing things like reconstruction of the lateral stabilising components of the first metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint.
So here at The Gait Guys we like to ask the big, and sometimes obvious, questions. What is toe off in walking and running gait going to look like in this hallux varus case ? Well, one has to consider that the normal linear and rotational forces are now changed. This means that the normal eccentric axis of the 1st MPT joint involved is going to very likely be changed. This means that the clearance of the base of the phalanx could be impaired and lead to painful binding, grinding or locking of the toe prior to reaching the adequate range of dorsiflexion for normal toe off. Additionally, the toe may act functionally unstable as the rotational forces remain unchecked leading to joint instability. Naturally, the medial foot tripod will be impaired and since the big toe acts in part like a kickstand to help support and fixate the 1st metatarsal (medial tripod), pronation forces can remain unchecked and beyond normal. Naturally the foot will attempt to shift the tripod stability elsewhere and often this goes to the 2nd metatarsal commonly found with hammering of the digit in an attempt to help with stability through increased long flexor tone (FDL). Pain with a hallux varus can be a bigger complaint than the unsightly surgical outcome.
There is so much more to this topic. We could go on for at least another 50 pages on this topic (as our thesis reminds us) but volume is not the point of today’s task. It was to bring something new to light for our brethren here at The Gait Guys. In the photo above, you see drift of the lesser toes, seemingly to follow the big toe. What you need to know is that this is not typical, however not impossible one could propose. This client had some other forefoot procedures done that were largely, although not exclusively, related to that lesser digit drift. Regardless, this is a client that is in some amount of foot trouble. They had good mobility of the 1st MTP joint, so full toe off was possible but because of the instability and uncontrollable rotational forces the joint was painful. A simple intervention made her life infinitely more comfortable, moving her into rigid rocker bottomed shoes. Dansko clogs for work, and ROCS shoes for walking. This left us with a very happy client. Not bad, all things considered. In the mean time we will watch for deformity progression even though the patient could not be urged to have another surgery probably even if their life depended upon it.
In summary, being a patient can be difficult. These days, more than ever it seems, one needs to do their homework and be their own advocate. Prior to surgery several consults should have taken place, risk and rewards should have been discussed, realistic outcomes dialogued and perhaps most of all questioning whether surgery needed to be on the table in the first place. Remember, surgery is most wisely selected in cases of neurologic decline and excessively painful and further detrimental biomechanics (ie. unaddressed ACL deficiency eventually promoting secondary instability with time). If there are ways around either, they should be explored. Cosmetic correction should never be on the table, and in the case of the foot, nor should poor shoe choices that promote problems.
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