THE FACTS ON FOOT BUNIONS:
WHAT ARE BUNIONS?
A bunion, also referred to by the medical term hallux valgus, is a bony bump that forms along the base of the big toe joint. Bunions develop when the toe joint becomes misaligned, pulling the tip of the big toe towards the second toe. This forces the bone at the base of the toe to protrude. When there’s a bunion, the big toe may no longer appear straight and a bump may be visible at the base. Smaller bunions, also called tailor’s bunions or bunionettes, can develop on the pinky toe.
Bunions are more common in women than in men. They tend to develop slowly and progress over time. Bunions can be painful and sore to the touch, and some appear red and inflamed. Ill-fitted shoes can aggravate bunions even further by rubbing and pressing against the bump. Severe bunions can cause so much pain that everyday activities such as walking may become difficult.
In addition to pain and inflammation, bunions can cause a number of symptoms and complications, including:
- Limited range of motion — The big toe can become stiff from the effects of a bunion. It may be painful and difficult to bend the toe.
- Numbness — Bunions can cause nerve damage, potentially leading to a loss of sensation in the big toe.
- Corns and calluses — Thickened skin, including corns and calluses, can form on and around a bunion as a result of shoes rubbing against the swollen, bulging area.
- Hammertoes — If ill-fitted shoes are worn, bunions can force the toes into tight spaces, squeezing them into unnatural positions. This can lead to hammertoes.
- Osteoarthritis — Bunions can damage the joint at the base of the toe, increasing the risk of osteoarthritis.
WHAT CAUSES BUNIONS TO FORM?
Bunions form due to misalignment of the joint at the base of the big toe. While there’s no single specific trigger that can lead to bunions, there are risk factors that can increase the chance of developing a bunion, including:
- Weak foot structure — Genetic structural issues and foot conditions such as loose ligaments and flat feet can alter body alignment and put excess pressure on certain areas of the feet. This may contribute to the development of bunions.
- Foot injuries — Damage to the feet from injuries can lead to structural changes in the feet, increasing the chances of bunions.
- Arthritis — Certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause joint damage. This can increase the likelihood of other joint-related issues, including bunions.
- Uncomfortable shoes — Tight shoes, high heels and pointy-toed shoes that squeeze and cramp the toes may contribute to the development of bunions. Ill-fitted shoes can also aggravate existing bunions, causing them to progress and become increasingly painful and swollen.
HOW TO HELP PREVENT BUNIONS?
While it may be difficult to prevent bunions entirely, you can help manage pain from bunions and reduce progression in a number of ways.
Comfortable shoes — Choose well-fitted shoes with a wide toe box to avoid friction and pressure that can aggravate or contribute to the development of a bunion. Avoid high heels and shoes with pointed toes.
Strengthening exercises — Exercising the feet can help support overall foot structure to relieve discomfort from bunions. Try grasping and picking up small objects between your big and second toe to strengthen the surrounding muscles.
Regular foot inspections — Examine your feet on a regular basis and watch for any changes over time. The earlier you catch a bunion starting to form, the faster you can take steps to slow progression.
HOW TO RELIEVE BUNION PAIN?
There are a number of ways to relieve bunion pain. Doctors usually recommend conservative therapies for managing bunion pain, including:
Icing — If your bunion is painful and swollen, icing can be helpful. However, if you’re experiencing numbness or a loss of sensation in the toe, check with your doctor before using ice.
NSAIDs — Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory non-steroidal drugs can help ease the pain and swelling from bunions. These medications include naproxen, aspirin and ibuprofen.
Splints and toe separators — Some people may experience some relief from using splints and toe separators, which are designed to temporarily improve the position of the toes.
Bunion cushions — Before putting on shoes, apply a bunion cushion to the affected area. Dr. Scholl’s® Bunion Cushions fit directly over a bunion for all-day protection against shoe friction and pressure. Dr. Scholl’s® Bunion Cushions with DURAGEL® technology provide instant cushioning to relieve the pain from bunions. The thin, flexible cushions are designed to fit into any shoe and stay in place throughout the day.
See your doctor if conservative methods don’t provide relief and your bunion continues to progress and cause pain. Surgery may be recommended.