What Is a Bunion?

A bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of the big toe, a bunion develops when some of the bones in the forefoot move out of place. The big toe is forced toward the smaller toes while the joint at the base of the big toe protrudes. Bunions can make walking extremely painful. Since bunions tend to get larger and more painful if left untreated, it’s important to see a podiatrist as soon as the bunion starts to develop.


Causes and Symptoms of Bunions

A person’s gait, their foot type, or the type of shoes they wear can lead to bunions. This happens over the course of many years and is due to the instability placed on the foot’s joints and tendons. Work-related foot stress can play a factor, as can wearing shoes that are too small or that squeeze the toes together. Unsurprisingly, a high number of women suffer from bunions.

Bunions can also be an inherited condition caused by a particular hereditary foot type. Other causes include foot injuries, neuromuscular disorders, or birth defects. Bunions are also more likely to develop in people who have flat feet or low arches, as well as in people who suffer from arthritis or inflammatory joint diseases such as rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis.

Symptoms include a swollen or firm bump on the outside edge of the foot at the base of the big toe. Corns or calluses may also develop where the first and second toes rub together. Bunions are typically sore, red, and painful.


Types of Bunions

Some bunions are more severe and cause more symptoms than others. A large, irritated bunion can include an inflamed pocket of fluid over the bump called bursitis. This most common type of bunion requires shoes with a wide and deep toe area to help prevent further inflammation.

A smaller type is often seen in conjunction when a big toe joint has a limited range of motion. Over time, this could cause a bunion to develop on top of the big toe joint, and can ultimately lead to arthritis. A tailor’s bunion is a bump that forms on the side of the smallest toe. This type occurs on the outside of the foot instead of the inside and is often hereditary.


Bunions: Diagnosis and Treatment

Bunions can be treated at home with a bunion pad, a spacer between the big toe and second toe, and ice packs to reduce swelling. Shoes should be wide at the toe to avoid further pressure on the bunion, and women are advised to avoid high-heeled shoes. When arthritis or bursitis are involved, an anti-inflammatory medication or a cortisone shot may be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation.

The type and severity of the bunion will determine the medical treatment. Early treatment options can relieve pressure and stop the progression of the bunion and include medication, physical therapy, and orthotic arch supports. If conservative treatments are unsuccessful, or if the bunion is too large or has developed arthritis, surgery may be required to relieve the pressure and repair the joint. A podiatrist may be able to stop or slow its progression if consulted early enough or, in some cases, may recommend surgical correction of the bunion.

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