Bunions are one of the more serious conditions that can affect foot health. A bunion is actually a bone deformity of the big toe, where the joint at the base and side of the toe is enlarged, forcing the toe out of place.
Left untreated, bunions worsen over time. The big toe angles in toward the rest of the toe, and can overlap the third toe (a condition known as Hallux Valgus). Or, it may move toward the second toe and twist or rotate (Hallus Abducto Valgus). Bunions can also lead to deformities like hammertoes.
Bunions cause discomfort and pain, because the enlargement constantly rubs against footwear. The skin of the toe becomes red and tender. The larger a bunion grows, the more painful it is to walk. People with bunions can develop thickening skin on the bottom of the foot, bursitis or arthritis, and chronic pain.
What causes bunions?
The most common cause of bunions is wearing shoes that are too tight. The condition is not hereditary, but it does tend to run in families—often due to a faulty foot structure.
Other causes of this condition might be neuromuscular problems, flat feet, pronated feet, or foot injuries.
How are bunions treated?
Except in severe cases, treatment for bunions is usually given to first relieve the pain and pressure, and then to stop the bunion from growing. Conservative treatment for bunions may include:
- Protective padding, typically with felt material, to prevent friction and reduce inflammation
- Removing corns and calluses, which contribute to irritation
- Precisely fitted footwear that’s designed to accommodate the existing bunion
- Orthotic devices to stabilize the joint and correctly position the foot for walking and standing
- Exercises to prevent stiffness and encourage joint mobility
- Nighttime splints that help align the toes and joint properly
In some cases, conservative treatment might not be able to prevent further damage. This depends on the size of the bunion, the degree of misalignment, and the amount of pain experienced. Bunion surgery, called a bunionectomy, may be recommended in severe cases. This surgery removes the bunion and realigns the toe.