Bunions are bone deformities caused by the misalignment of the big toe joint. Characterized by a bony protrusion at the base of the joint, these deformities gradually worsen over time, making walking—or even wearing shoes—painful. Since these deformities involve bone, they won't heal on their own. However, bunions don't have to cramp your style or stop you from doing the things you love. With the proper treatment, you can find relief and get back on your feet.
Keep reading to learn more about bunion causes and treatment options, including the conservative and advanced interventions offered at Grandville Foot and Ankle.
How Bunions Form
Bunions don't appear overnight. Instead, they develop slowly, over time, in response to pressure placed on the joint of the big toe, also known as the metatarsophalangeal joint. This long-term pressure can actually change the normal structure of the bones in the foot, causing the tip of the big toe to lean toward the smaller toes and the base of the joint to jut out unnaturally.
Sometimes called hallux valgus, these are the most common type of bunion, affecting an estimated up to one in three adults in the United States. However, they aren't the only type of bunion that occurs. For example, when a bunion forms on the little toe, rather than the big toe, it is called a tailor's bunion or bunionette.
Additionally, though bunions are typically diagnosed in adults, kids, teenagers, and even infants can suffer from them as well. In babies, the condition is known as congenital hallux valgus. When diagnosed in children and teens between the ages of 10 and 15, it is called juvenile or adolescent hallux valgus.
In addition to the bony bump at the base of the big toe, bunions can also cause:
- Redness, swelling, and inflammation
- Pain and tenderness
- Calluses or corns on the bunion, or where the big toe rubs against little toes
- Hardened skin on the sole of the foot
- Stiffness and limited movement of the big toe
- A burning sensation that occurs when trying to bend the affected toe
- Trouble wearing regular shoes
- Difficulty walking
Seeking professional help for a bunion in its earliest stages may help you avoid more extreme complications, such as having trouble walking or developing hammertoes.
While bunions can affect anyone, there are a number of factors that may increase your risk of developing this common deformity, including:
- Age and sex. Bunions are particularly prevalent among women and older individuals.
- Family history. Genes inherited foot structure problems (like flatfeet), and whether another person in the family has the deformity can play a role in bunion formation.
- Other medical problems. Suffering from inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or gout, or conditions like cerebral palsy or polio may make bunions more likely.
- Time on your feet. Standing for long periods is a requirement at many jobs. Unfortunately, it is also a major risk factor for developing bunions, as the pressure your feet sustain can weaken the metatarsophalangeal joint, resulting in the misalignment that leads to bunion deformities.
- Shoe fit and design. Wearing shoes that don't fit correctly or are too narrow in the toe box creates conditions that can allow bunions to form.
- Joint issues. Having particularly flexible joints can make some individuals more prone to bunions
Bunions are relatively easy for podiatrists to diagnose, thanks to the recognizable protrusion. In addition to a thorough examination of the affected foot, your podiatrist may also order X-rays to assess the severity of the misalignment and potential joint damage.
Without proper and prompt treatment, bunions can worsen and lead to additional podiatric problems. However, if you notice the deformity and seek help for it in its earliest stages, you will not only prevent it from getting worse, but you will have access to a much wider range of conservative treatment options. These may include:
- Over-the-counter or prescription medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve pain and inflammation.
- Pads and taping. Over-the-counter bunion pad shoe inserts can cushion the affected joint and ease pain, while medical tape can be used to hold the metatarsophalangeal joint in the correct position to encourage healing.
- Footwear changes. Switch to shoes that provide plenty of room in the toe box, and don't apply pressure to—or crowd—your toes.
- Orthotic devices. Store-bought or custom shoe inserts can be used to control or correct alignment issues that contribute to bunions. Other orthotics devices that may help include spacers placed between the big and second toes, or splints, which can be used to keep the big toe joint straight while you sleep.
- Physical therapy. Stretches and exercises, as well as massage, physical therapy, and ultrasound therapy, can strengthen the surrounding muscles and aid in the realignment of the affected joint.
- Injections. Steroid injections may be used to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.
Truth About Bunions
Nothing will get rid of your bunion except surgery, however, there are a lot of things you can do conservatively to slow down the progression of your bunion. If this does not work or help to resolve your symptoms, then it likely is time to discuss surgical options.
To have surgery or not to have surgery, the best options for treatment of my bunion!
Not ready for surgery? You came to the right place. Our office has everything you may need from bunion splints, padding, and other OTC items you may need.
Advanced Treatment Options
I think I’m ready for surgery:
There are many procedure types for bunions including head, shaft, and base procedures. Different procedures have different post-op recovery times that can require weight bearing in a boot and no weight bearing in a cast. Depending on the bunion deformity and what your goals are, we work to help you find the right procedure for you. Picking the right procedure for you is very important because it can help minimize reoccurrence rates of the bunion coming back in your lifetime, but can also help you make an informed decision on how long it will take you to get back to normal activities that you love to do. Our doctor takes into consideration both your lifestyle and goals and compares them to your bunion and other forefoot deformities and makes a plan WITH you.
What’s new in bunion surgery?
We are up to date on all the new technologies and ways of doing surgery, including lapiplasty and minimally invasive bunion surgeries. If you think these options may benefit you or you are not sure if one of these may be a better option for you, come talk to our specialized doctor in bunion surgery. We will explain all the different surgeries with regard to bunions and will both educate you and be your partner in regard to surgical correction of your bunion. We want you to make a better-informed decision based on what will work best for you considering your symptoms, age, job, daily activities, current medical history, and any other concerns you may have.
Contact us and we will guide you through everything you need to know to reduce your pain and symptoms with your bunions and how you can correct them.
Providing the Highest Standard of Care for Bunions and Other Foot Deformities
At Grandville Foot and Ankle, we're committed to providing the highest standard of care and the best possible solutions to your podiatric problems. Our podiatrist, Dr. Sarah Stewart, will work with you to craft a treatment plan based on your unique needs and goals, so you can feel confident in your care.
Contact us to schedule an appointment to have your feet evaluated by Dr. Stewart. Don't wait—act now to take the first step toward better foot health.