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What are Bunions?

Have you ever notice a bump or bony lump on the side of your foot at the base of the big toe? A bunion is a bone deformity of the big toe joint, where the bones are out of alignment. It is not a growth. You can also get a smaller bunion over the fifth toe joint which is called a tailor bunion.

A bunion generally develops slowly over time, resulting from improper foot biomechanics, poor footwear, and stresses on the joints of the foot. You might think of a bunion as an unsightly annoyance but bunions are more than just a simple (can be painful) bumps. They are an early indication of many potential foot complications. As the bunion enlarges, the joint at the base of the toe undergoes a change in alignment, resulting in foot instability, stressed joint and arthritic changes. Over the bump the skin and tissues are irritated and can become inflamed, resulting in bursitis. This deformity can make simple tasks such as walking and footwear wearing uncomfortable and painful.

Ignoring a bunion almost never works. The pain and deformity will almost surely increase unless you take steps to relieve the pressure on the affected joint. The good news is that proper treatment will help you to maintain your mobility and increase your quality of life.

How do I know I have bunions?

Here are some symptoms related to bunions:

  • Bunions can cause soreness and swell over the bump and on the movement of the big toe.

  • Bunions can also cause overlapping toes.

  • Corns and calluses are often associated with bunions.

  • Discomfort, corns or calluses may also be present on the balls of the feet.

  • Joint pain or arthritic pain may also be present.

What causes bunions?

Bunions take time to develop. Very rarely babies are born with bunions. There is generally no single cause of bunions but is generally related to the following risk factors:

  • Inheritance: People who have bunions in the family tends to have a greater predisposition to bunions. This is often the result of inheriting a certain foot type.

  • Foot biomechanics: Certain foot types and shapes place an increased pressure on the big toe joint during standing and walking. The pressure gradually stresses the joint and causes changes in the bones and joint structures.

  • Poor footwear: Tight, narrow shoes such as high heels or any shoes that do not suit your foot shape can aggravate bunions and contribute to pain. A podiatrist can help with the selection of high heels and other footwear (link to footwear).

  • Foot injuries: A foot injury can alter the position of bones and soft tissue structures in the feet and cause bunions.

  • Chronic conditions: Some chronic neurological conditions and arthritis can cause changes that alter function and physiology in the foot, leading to bunions.

When do bunions become painful?

For most people, bunions typically start small as an annoyance condition. You may notice a bit of redness, skin rubbing or irritation on the side of your big toe joint in certain shoes. At this point, it is what we consider as early stages of deformity and it is good to make some changes. If you pad the bunion and switch to better-fitting shoes or splinting to improve toe position, you may be able to slow the bunion’s progression as well as minimise pain.

As the bunion progresses, a large red and painful swelling (bursitis) can develop on the side of the joint, often as a result of shoe friction and pressure. At this point, the bones of the toe have moved out of alignment, the soft tissues of the joint are stretched and thickened, the cartilage and bone joint can become damaged and worn, leading to joint stiffness and pain. This is the time you will need to seek health professionals.

If you think you are developing bunions, we believe prevention is better than cure. Hence, visiting a podiatrist to prevent further development or foot complications will be your best action.

How to Treat Bunions?

It is important to pay attention to bunions when they are first noticed. The smaller a bunion, the more chance it can be treated conservatively. As the bunion becomes larger and more arthritic, surgery is more likely to be required. Common treatments are:

  • Padding and strapping: help to minimise pain and reduce the pressure from shoes and support the joint alignment.

  • Anti-inflammatories: maybe used to reduce the bursitis and joint inflammation and pain.

  • Stretching and mobilisations: can relieve pain and increase joint flexibility and function.

  • Footwear: Properly fitted footwear with the right features can reduce pressure and skin rubbing that causes joint inflammation and pain. Often the wrong type of shoes will speed the progression of a bunion and may be the difference between pain-free and painful bunions.

  • Orthotics: can reduce the biomechanical forces on the joint, relieving pressure, slowing progression and providing pain relief.

  • Surgery: when the pain of a bunion interferes with daily activities, it’s time to discuss surgical options with your podiatrist. There are several surgical technique available, which one is used depends on a variety of factors.

THIS WEB SITE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your foot health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or your podiatrist.


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