Have you ever experienced a painful, bony lump on the outside of your big toe? Chances are that you are suffering from a bunion. This can take place as our feet change with age, a common phenomenon, according to research. Moreover, data also suggests that bunion is one of the most common foot deformities, especially in women. This is probably because women tend to have weaker connective tissue in their feet. Additionally, women are more likely to wear tight, high-heeled shoes.
Data suggests that 1 out of 3 people (over the age of 65) experience bunions in varying degrees. In this blog, we will cover everything you need to know about bunions—from causes and symptoms to treatment and prevention. Let’s jump right in!
Types of Bunions
Let’s first look at the different types of bunions. While bunions on the big toe are the most common ones, there are several other types, such as:
- Congenital Hallux Valgus: Babies with this condition are likely to have developed bunions at birth.
- Juvenile/Adolescent Hallux Valgus: In this case, tweens and teens (commonly between the ages of 10 and 15) may develop bunions.
- Tailor’s Bunions: This type of bunion is also known as a bunionette and develops on the outside base of the little pinky toe.
Top Causes of Bunions
Moving on, let’s understand what causes bunions. Several factors can increase your chances of developing a bunion, such as:
- Increased pressure from the way you walk
- The inherent shape of your foot structure can cause your big toe to bend in toward the second toe.
- Standing for extended periods of time
- Wearing ill-fitting, narrow shoes, which can worsen the pain caused by bunions
- Genetic predisposition and a family history of having bunions due to the foot structure (such as having flat feet)
- Constantly wearing tight shoes with high heels and pointed toes
- Prevalence of weak connective tissue in your feet
- Other issues such as a short Achilles tendon, inflammatory joint diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, short calf muscles, etc.
- Certain types of foot injuries can also cause bunions
Remember that bunions can gradually form on one or both feet over a period of time. Now that we’ve understood its causes, let’s look at its symptoms.
Symptoms of Bunions
The first thing you need to note is that most people exhibit little to no symptoms when it comes to bunions. In terms of appearance, it closely resembles a turnip.
However, people with severe symptoms may experience pressure and pain. Note that the severity level will depend on the angle between the big toe and the foot bone. Here is the process a doctor will typically follow to understand whether a bunion is causing your foot problems:
- Step 1: The doctor will start by assessing the joint at the base of your big toe to see whether it is bulging or not.
- Step 2: They will then examine the position of the toes in relation to each other to assess the extent of movement and understand the position of the legs.
- Step 3: The doctor will make sure to examine the patient while they’re standing, sitting, and walking.
- Step 4: They will examine the state of the skin on the foot and check for signs of osteoarthritis.
- Step 5: Your doctor will talk to you to try and figure out how the symptoms are affecting your everyday life.
In some cases, the doctor might also want to get a foot x-ray in a standing position for a more accurate diagnosis. The x-ray will help the doctor understand the extent of joint damage and the level of bone misalignment.
Now that you are how a bunion is diagnosed, let’s take a look at what actually happens if you have a bunion. Generally speaking, the first metatarsal bone (or the bones of the forefoot) gradually moves sideways towards the other foot. This can cause a series of cascading effects, such as:
- The front foot becomes wider
- The joint at the base of the big toe bulges out
- The big toe leans in towards the other toes
- Deforming of the other toes
- Pain and burning when you try to bend the big toe
- Pain along the bottom of the foot or on the bulging big toe joint
- Damaged nerves in the big toe, leading to subsequent numbness
- Thickened and hardened skin on the sole of the foot
- Big toe joint becoming red, inflamed, numb, and swollen
- Difficulty in moving the big toe and wearing regular shoes
- Development of hammer toes or claw toes where the toe tendons and joints become painful and tight
- Development of corns and calluses on the affected toes
- Increased likelihood of osteoarthritis in the big toe joint, leading to chronic pain
- Increased unsteadiness on your feet, leading to a higher risk of falls
How to Best Treat Bunions
If not treated in time, bunions can get worse. Moreover, the best type of treatment for you will depend on your symptoms, deformity type, and whether you have existing health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, etc.
Here are some of the solutions you can follow to treat bunions, after consulting with your doctor.
Splints are nothing but toe spacers that help keep the big toe in a normal position. This type of treatment helps relieve the symptoms and slow down the progression of the bunion (though this is not scientifically proven yet). However, it is not guaranteed that you can correct the misalignment with splints. As a rule, try using splints at night.
Wear Well-Fitted Shoes
You can also wear the right kind of shoes (such as shoes with wide, deep toe boxes) to relieve yourself of the associated symptoms. Alternatively, you can use a stretching device to widen your existing shoes. If you have bunions, it is best to wear flat shoes to give your toes enough room. In the instance where your toe or big toe joint hurts, you can even use over-the-counter bunion pads or medical tape to cushion the area and ease some of the pain. If the middle part of your foot hurts, you can support it by using over the counter or personalized shoe inserts (orthotics). Alternatively, you can also wear special “rocker bottom shoes.” In most cases, doctors also recommend walking barefoot as much as possible.
Try Out Physiotherapy
Physiotherapy, in addition to massage and ultrasound therapy, can be useful in strengthening and stretching your foot muscles as well as getting rid of pain and inflammation. There are special exercises you can do for the same. Consult with a good physiotherapist under your physician’s guidance.
Some doctors may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets or ointment along with the application of ice packs to help with the pain and swelling. These may have side effects, so prolonged consumption is strictly a no-go.
One tried-and-tested way to treat bunions is to go the surgical route (also known as a bunionectomy). Even then, you may experience some kind of side effects, and your symptoms might not go away completely.
How to Prevent Bunions
Here are some effective tips on how to prevent bunions:
- Wear comfortable, flat shoes at all times or as much as possible. This will prevent your front foot and toes from feeling any kind of added pressure.
- You can also walk barefoot to strengthen your foot muscles. This also enables your feet and toes to be in a natural position.
- According to some doctors, you can use orthopedic shoe inserts or insoles as well. However, there isn’t enough evidence to back this claim.
In conclusion, most people have mild bunions that may not cause any trouble for them. More importantly, people often get confused between a normal big toe joint and a bunion. This is why you must go to a specialist to get this problem diagnosed properly. If you are looking for a medical clinic that specializes in foot and ankle treatment, consider our team at Mobility Bone & Joint. Our singular goal is to provide you with superior care, comfort, and convenience—all in one place. Contact us today.