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Bunions, Toe Deformities "Highly Inheritable" Among Europeans

Update Date: May 20, 2013 12:16 PM EDT

Got bunions? A new study reveals that people should blame their family and not their shoes for their deformed toes.

Researchers found that people of European descent inherit conditions like bunions or other foot deformities like hammer or claw toe.

The latest research published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, which is the largest study of the heritability of common foot disorders in older adults, provides evidence that bunions and lesser toe deformities are passed on between generations in people of European descent.

Up to 60 percent of older adults have foot disorders that could limit their ability to move around and lower their quality of life. Previous studies found that 23 percent of people 18 to 65 years of age and 36 percent of people over the age of 65 have bunions. Bunions are abnormal, bony bumps that form on the joint at the base of the big toe, and come sometimes cause persistent or intermittent pain and restricted movement of the big toe.

The latest study involved 1,370 people enrolled in the Framingham Foot Study.  The participants had an average age of 66 years old.  Each participant had a foot exam between 2002 and 2008 to see if they had bunions, toe deformities or plantar soft tissue atrophy, a breakdown of the fatty "cushion" under the ball of the foot. 

The study also used software that performs genetic analyses to estimate the heritability of the participants' foot disorders.

The study found that 31 percent of participants had bunions, 30 percent had toe deformities like "hammer toes" and 28 percent had plantar soft tissue atrophy. Researchers found that bunions and toe deformities were highly inheritable depending on age and sex.  However, plantar soft tissue atrophy did not demonstrate significant heritability in the study cohort.

"Our study is the largest investigation of the heritability of common foot disorders in older adults, confirming that bunions and lesser toe deformities are highly inheritable in Caucasian men and women of European descent," Dr. Marian Hannan from Hebrew SeniorLife and Harvard Medical School in Boston said in a news release.

"These new findings highlight the importance of furthering our understanding of what causes greater susceptibility to these foot conditions, as knowing more about the pathway may ultimately lead to early prevention or early treatment," she concluded.

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