Bunions | Foot Health | Patients (2024)

What is a Bunion?

A bunion is commonly referred to asa “bump”onthe joint at the base of the big toe—the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint—that forms when the bone or tissue at the big toe joint moves out of place. The toe is forced to bend toward the others, causing an often painful lump of bone on the foot. Because this joint carries a lot of the body's weight while walking, bunions can cause extreme pain if left untreated. The MTP joint itself may become stiff and sore, making even the wearing of shoes difficult or impossible. A bunion—from the Latin "bunio," meaning enlargement—can also occur on the outside of the foot along the little toe, where it is called a "bunionette" or "tailor's bunion."

Causes

Bunions form when the normal balance of forces that is exerted on the joints and tendons of the foot becomes disrupted. This disruption can lead to instability in the joint and cause the deformity. Bunions are brought about by years of abnormal motion and pressure over the MTP joint. They are, therefore, a symptom of faulty foot development and are usually caused by the way we walk and our inherited foot type or our shoes.

Although bunions tend to run in families, it is the foot type that is passed down—not the bunion. Parents who suffer from poor foot mechanics can pass their problematic foot type on to their children, who in turn are prone to developing bunions. The abnormal functioning caused by this faulty foot development can lead to pressure being exerted on and within the foot, often resulting in bone and joint deformities such as bunions and hammertoes.

Other causes of bunions are foot injuries, neuromuscular disorders, or congenital deformities. People who suffer from flat feet or low arches are also prone to developing these problems, as are arthritic patients and those with inflammatory joint disease. Occupations that place undue stress on the feet are also a factor; ballet dancers, for instance, often develop the condition.

Wearing shoes that are too tight or cause the toes to be squeezed together is also a common factor, one that explains the high prevalence of the disorder among women.

Symptoms

The symptoms of a bunion include the following:

  • Development of a swelling, callus or firm bump on the outside edge of the foot, at the base of the big toe
  • Redness, swelling, or pain at or near the MTP joint
  • Development of hammertoes or calluses under the ball of the foot
  • Corns or other irritations caused by the overlap of the first and second toes
  • Restricted or painful motion of the big toe

Home Treatment

What can you do for relief?

  • Apply a commercial, non-medicated bunion pad around the bony prominence
  • Apply a spacer between the big toe and second digit
  • Wear shoes with a wide and deep toe box
  • If your bunion becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling
  • Avoid high-heeled shoes over two inches tall

When to Visit a Podiatrist

If you think you have a bunion, you should see a podiatrist. Bunions tend to get larger and more painful if left untreated and can lead to further complications. Your podiatric physician can help determine appropriate next steps that are right for you.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Treatment options vary with the type and severity of each bunion, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important to prevent further long-lasting complications.The primary goal of most early treatment options is to relieve pressure on the bunion and halt the progression of the joint deformity.

A podiatrist may recommend these treatments:

Padding and Taping: Often the first step in a treatment plan, padding the bunion minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping helps keep the foot in a normal position, thus reducing stress and pain. This step is for acute symptomatic pain and so may help if you are not a candidate for surgery. This method is not a definitive or preventive solution.

Medication: Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections are often prescribed to ease the acute pain and inflammation caused by joint deformities.

Physical Therapy: Often used to provide relief of the inflammation and bunion pain. Ultrasound therapy is a popular technique for treating bunions and their associated soft tissue involvement.

Orthotics: Shoe inserts may be useful in controlling foot function and may reduce symptoms and prevent worsening of the deformity.

Surgical Options: When conservative treatments fail, or when the bunion progresses past the threshold for such options, podiatric surgery may become necessary to relieve pressure and repair the toe joint. Several surgical procedures are available to the podiatrist. The surgery will help to reduce the bony enlargement, improve the alignment of the toe joint, and alleviate pain. The decision to pursue surgery takes into account your health status and the goals of treatment to determine the correct treatment plan.

A simple bunionectomy, in which only the bony prominence is removed, may be used for less severe deformities. Severe bunions may require a more involved procedure, which includes cutting the bone and realigning the joint. Recuperation takes time, and swelling and some discomfort are common for several weeks following surgery. Pain, however, is easily managed with medications prescribed by your podiatrist. Your podiatrist wants you to have a satisfactory and speedy recovery, and it can be achieved by carefully following the postoperative instructions that you have discussed prior to and immediately after surgery.

Prevention

There are some steps that may help prevent, or at least slow, the progression of bunions:

  • Avoid shoes with a narrow toe box
  • If your foot flattens excessively, make sure you wear supportive shoes, and if necessary, get custom orthotics from your podiatrist
  • See your podiatrist at the first signs or symptoms of a bunion deformity, as early treatment may stop or slow its progression

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FAQs

What medical conditions cause bunions? ›

People who wear shoes that are too tight, too narrow or too pointed are more likely to develop bunions. Rheumatoid arthritis. Having this inflammatory condition can make you more likely to develop bunions. Heredity.

Can a person live with bunions? ›

Many people live happily with bunions that don't cause them any pain for years. But as they become more pronounced you may experience pain and swelling as your foot begins to rub uncomfortably inside your shoe.

Are bunions bad for your health? ›

A bunion at this critical junction of bones, tendons, and ligaments can seriously impair the foot's functioning. For one thing, a bunion on the big toe can damage the other toes. Under the pressure of the big toe, they may develop corns or become bent, forming hammertoes.

How to stop a bunion from progressing? ›

Wear the right shoes

Choose shoes with plenty of wiggle room in the toes, and avoid pointy shoes entirely. Opt for shoes with low rather than high heels, which can worsen symptoms. Finally, make sure your shoes have plenty of arch support to relieve pressure on your toes.

What autoimmune disease causes bunions? ›

Elliott Perel sees many patients who've developed bunions, not just from stress, but also from other causes, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Are some people more prone to bunions? ›

Bunions are often hereditary. Even if you don't wear high heels or ill fitting shoes, you may still be genetically predisposed to develop bunions if your parents or grand parents have or have ever had them.

How can I shrink my bunions naturally? ›

  1. Massage and Exercise Your Feet. One of the simplest ways to treat your bunions without surgery is to, in fact, exercise your feet. ...
  2. Take a Paracetamol. ...
  3. Soak Your Feet in a Foot Bath. ...
  4. Ice Your Feet. ...
  5. Put Your Feet Up! ...
  6. Try Castor Oil. ...
  7. Try Bunion Pads. ...
  8. Try Bunion Splints.
Jul 20, 2022

Can you straighten a bunion without surgery? ›

In most cases, bunions can be treated nonsurgically. One of the podiatrists from our team can examine your bunion(s) and recommend a conservative treatment which includes one or more of the following: Custom shoe orthotics (inserts) that relieve pressure on the joint and align your weight in a more beneficial way.

Who usually gets bunions? ›

Bunions are more common in women than men. The problem can run in families. People born with abnormal alignment of the bones in their feet are more likely to form a bunion. Wearing narrow-toed, high-heeled shoes may lead to the development of a bunion.

Is walking barefoot good for bunions? ›

Going barefoot is ideal in the beginning stages of bunions. When barefoot, the joints of the toes will get stronger, an important part of good foot health.

Why is bunion surgery not recommended? ›

Prolonged swelling, infection, and deep vein thrombosis can result from this treatment. Some of the other possible complications include over- or under-correction, loss of correction, joint stiffness, and nerve entrapment.

Does walking a lot make bunions worse? ›

A sure-fire way to exacerbate your bunion is to stand on your feet all day. Walking or running a marathon is the worst thing you can do for your bunion, and if you have a job that keeps you on your toes, you may need to take some time off to heal.

Do flip flops cause bunions? ›

Wearing flip flops too often, or long term, can cause bunions or hammer toes to develop. Hammer toes occur when the joints contract, causing your toe to bend abnormally. Flip-flops also cause a shorter stride in walking, leading to possible tightness of the Achilles, which may result in Achilles tendinitis.

Has anyone reversed bunion? ›

Bunions can't be reversed, and unfortunately, they don't go away on their own. Once you have a bunion, it will likely continue to grow over time. Luckily, many people don't need to have surgery to treat their bunions. It's possible to find pain relief through home remedies, orthotics and other treatments.

Are Crocs good for bunions? ›

Crocs in the Clinic

“These shoes are especially light,” says Harold Glickman, DPM, former president of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). “They have huge room in the toe that affords the front part of the foot lots of room, especially for people with bone deformities like bunions and hammer toe.

Why do I suddenly have a bunion? ›

There's not just one reason why bunions develop. It's thought that a combination of factors — like family history, abnormal bone structure, increased motion and shoe choice — can cause them.

What genetic disorders cause bunions? ›

Bunions are also a feature of several rare genetic syndromes that affect bone development, including Chitayat syndrome and fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva.

What is the difference between a bunion and a hallux Rigidus? ›

The lump of a bunion is found on the inside of the big toe, as opposed to the top in hallux rigidus. The pain from a bunion is most commonly caused by pressure from shoes or, on occasions, by crowding or crossing over of the lesser toes. The latin for a bunion is hallux valgus, as opposed to rigidus.

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