What are Bunions and Who Can Get Them?

Our feet help us with everything we do in our lives. However, our feet can suffer as a result of our daily activities. One such condition is the pesky case of bunions.

Bunions are very common at 3 million cases each year and are treatable with medication and outpatient surgery. While treatable, bunions can cause significant pain that can become a burden. This is why it's important to learn basic information about bunions, such as what their symptoms are and the overall best way to avoid them.

What Are Bunions?

Bunions are caused when the big toe abnormally moves towards the other toes. This causes a boney bump on the inner side of the big toe joint base, making it painfully stick out. Occasionally, the big toe overlaps or underlaps the second toe, sometimes causing the skin to become red and sore.

If you wear tight and narrow shoes, this can cause bunions to develop or worsen bunions that already exist. Bunions can also form because of your foot's physical shape or a pre-existing deformity or medical condition. Smaller bunions are known as bunionettes, and they can develop on the joint of your smaller toes.

Who’s at Risk for Bunions?

Several factors increase your risk of bunions. A few of these factors are the following:

  • High heels. People who wear high heels are at higher risk for bunions because these shoes force your toes into the front of your shoes. This tight and narrow position often crowds and essentially suffocates your toes.
  • Poor-fitting shoes. People who wear shoes that are simply uncomfortable (i.e., too small, too tight and narrow, or too pointed) are more likely to develop bunions than others. This is because you're putting unnecessary stress on your feet.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. If you have this inflammatory condition, it can make you more likely to develop bunions.
  • Genetics. If you notice that you tend to develop bunions, chances are it might be an inherited problem. Genetics plays a role in the anatomy of your foot, and it can be the cause of bunions.

Causes and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of bunions include the following:

  • A bulging bump on the outer part or base of your big toe
  • Swelling, redness, or soreness around the joint of your bigger toe
  • Corns or calluses; commonly developed where the first and second toe on each foot rub against each other
  • Constant pain or soreness that is consistent or repeats itself in your day
  • Limited movement of your big toe

While the official cause of bunions is known, it’s believed that bunions are caused by incorrect foot mechanics. It’s also theorized that genetics cause this deformity in a family line. Also, bunions can be developed by improper footwear (such as high heels and small shoes) as these put unnecessary strain and pain on the feet.

When to See a Doctor

While bunions are rarely serious, it's best to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Preferably, you should see a doctor who specializes in foot disorders. These specialized doctors are known as podiatrists or orthopedic foot specialists.

It's recommended you see a doctor if you have:

  • Consistent toe or foot pain
  • A noticeable bump on the joint of your big toe
  • Reduced movement of your big toe or foot
  • Difficulty finding shoes that properly fit due to an existing bunion

How to Treat Bunions

Treatment options can vary depending on the severity of your bunion and the extent of pain it causes you.

Conservative Treatment

Nonsurgical treatments that can relieve you of bunion pain include:

  • Changing shoes. By switching to more comfortable shoes that provide proper space for your toes, it can provide you with significant relief.
  • Padding. Over-the-counter and non-medicated bunion pads may be helpful. These act as a buffer between your foot and shoe to relax your feet.
  • Medication. Tylenol, ibuprofen, Aleve, or others can help with bunion-related pain.
  • Shoe inserts. Padded shoe inserts aid in evenly distributing pressure whenever you move your feet. This reduces your symptoms and prevents your bunion from getting worse. However, some people may instead require prescription orthotic devices instead of an over-the-counter product.
  • Ice. By applying ice to your bunion after your feet have been overworked or become inflamed, ice can help relieve the pain. However, if you lose feeling or have circulation problems with your feet, talk with your doctor first.

Surgical Options

If conservative treatment doesn't help you, it might be time to consider surgery. Surgery is only recommended when a bunion causes you constant pain or begins to interfere with your daily life. It should also be considered if alternative options aren’t helping.

There are many surgical procedures for bunions. This is why it's important to remember that no single procedure is the right choice for everyone. Surgical procedures for bunions are done either as a single procedure or as a combination.

Surgery may involve:

  • Removing any swollen tissue around the joint of your big toe
  • Straightening your big toe by removing part of the bone
  • Realigning one or more bones in the forefoot into a more normal position to correct the abnormal angle in the joint of your big toe
  • Permanently joining the bones of your affected joint

While it's possible to walk on your feet following a bunion procedure, a full recovery can take weeks or months.

To prevent bunions from reforming, wear comfortable and proper shoes. Of course, talk to your doctor about what to expect following your surgery.

Keep Your Feet Healthy

To avoid bunions, you should keep your feet healthy and happy. It’s best to choose shoes based on comfort instead of fashion style. Your shoes should also have a wide toe box so your toes can breathe and stretch nicely without excessive stress.

Also, your shoes should conform to your foot's natural shape without squeezing you. By keeping your feet happy and comfortable, you'll decrease the risk of bunions. And avoid having to deal with unnecessary pain or surgery by simply focusing on comfort!

Published online: Jan 07, 2022

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