Bunions form as bony protrusions at the joint where your big toe joins your foot.
In addition to forming a bump, the skin over the bunion can be sore and red. Bunions can form either from structural issues with your foot or as a result of wearing inappropriate footwear. Symptoms include:
- Swelling, soreness or redness on the area surrounding your big toe joint.
- A bump on the outside of the big toe, where the toe joins with the foot
- Pain, either persistent or intermittent
- Loss of range of motion in your big toe
- Calluses where the first and second toe overlap
Causes of Bunions
It is not known exactly why some people develop bunions, but there are some theories. Some people appear to have an inherited foot type that predisposes them to develop bunions. Injuries to the foot can also lead to bunions. Congenital deformities, meaning deformities that are present at birth, can lead to bunions. There are also healthcare providers that believe wearing tight, narrow, or high-heeled shoes can lead to bunions. Individuals with inflammatory arthritis are more prone to developing them.
Bunions do not always cause secondary issues, but there are some common complications that can develop from them:
- Hammertoe: This is an abnormal bend in the toe. It develops in the middle joint of the toe. It is most common in the toe beside your big toe. Hammertoe can lead to pain and pressure in the area.
- Bursitis: Bursitis develops when the bursae, or fluid-filled pads that cushion muscles, tendons, and bones near joints, become painfully inflamed.
- Metatarsalgia: This condition causes swelling and pain in the ball of the foot.
Bunions are not always preventable, but there are ways to reduce your risk of developing them. Select your shoes carefully. They should be wide in the toe box and there should be space between the end of your big toe and the end of the shoe. They should not squeeze any part of your foot. They should feel comfortable “out of the box;” don’t expect them to feel better after some breaking in time.
Diagnosing and Treating Bunions
Your doctor will diagnose your bunions with a physical examination. He or she may also perform an X-ray to help determine the cause of the bunion and how severe it is.
There are a variety of treatment options available for bunions. The right treatment option for you is determined by the how severe the bunion is and how much pain it causes you. The most common options are non-surgical. These are conservative treatment methods that your doctor will probably want you to try before moving to something more aggressive.
The first recommendation from your doctor will probably be to change shoes. You want roomy shoes that provide plenty of room for your toes. Your doctor may also recommend splinting, taping, or padding the foot. Padded bunion pads relieve pressure, and taping the toes into a healthy position can ease the pain.
Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. He or she may also recommend cortisone shots to the area, which can help ease inflammation. Icing the bunion is another effective way to relieve pain. It is particularly beneficial when you have been on your feet for a long time or it is particularly inflamed.
If non-surgical options do not relieve the bunion pain, you may need more aggressive treatment. There are a variety of surgical options for treating bunions. Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the swollen tissue from around the joint of your big toe. Surgery can also straighten the big toe by removing part of the bone. The big toe can also be surgically realigned. Your doctor will make the decision that makes the most sense based on the severity and cause of the bunion.
Nearly all bunion surgery is done on an outpatient basis. You will need to have someone available to drive you home following the procedure. While you will probably be able to walk immediately after the procedure, full recovery can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
All surgical procedures bear some level of risk. These risks are infrequent, but it is important that you are aware of them. Possible complications include nerve damage, infection, failure for the procedure to fully relieve pain, and reoccurrence of the bunion.