A bunion is a bump on the joint at the base of the big toe. Bunions form when the bone or tissue at the big toe joint moves out of place. The toe is forced to bend toward the others, causing an often painful lump of bone on the foot. Because this joint carries a lot of the body’s weight while walking, bunions can cause extreme pain if left untreated; sometimes, arthritis can develop. The big toe joint itself may become stiff and sore, making even the wearing of shoes difficult or impossible. A similar process can occur on the outside of the foot near the pinky toe. That deformity is called a bunionette.
Bunions form when the normal balance of forces that is exerted on the joints and tendons of the foot becomes disrupted. This can lead to instability of the big toe joint, causing deformity. Below are some specific causes for this instability. Bunions can be caused by years of abnormal motion and pressure over the big toe joint. They are, therefore, a symptom of faulty foot development and are usually caused by the way we walk (also called biomechanics).
Tight or Poorly-Fitting Shoe Gear—Wearing shoes that are too tight or cause the toes to be squeezed together is also a common factor, one that explains the high prevalence of the disorder among women. Heredity—Although bunions tend to run in families, it is the foot type that is passed down, not the bunion. Parents who suffer from poor foot mechanics can pass their problematic foot type onto their children, who, in turn, are prone to developing bunions. The abnormal functioning caused by this faulty foot development can lead to pressure being exerted on and within the foot, often resulting in bone and joint deformities such as bunions and hammertoes.
Occupational Stress—Occupations that place undue stress on the feet are also a factor. Ballet dancers, for instance, often develop the condition.
The symptoms of a bunion include the following:
Like many foot problems, bunions are a progressive problem, meaning they get worse over time and tend to not resolve on their own. If pain persists, podiatric medical attention should be sought. Bunions tend to get larger and more painful if left untreated, making non-surgical treatment less and less of an option.
Treatment options vary with the type and severity of each bunion, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important in avoiding surgery. The primary goal of most early treatment options is to relieve pressure on the bunion and halt the progression of the joint deformity.
It is important to remember that there is no non-surgical cure for bunions. The goal of conservative therapy for this condition is to reduce the progression of the deformity and symptoms. The only true way to remove the actual deformity is through surgical intervention. Some conservative measures to ease pain associated with bunions include:
Padding and Taping—Often the first step in a treatment plan, padding the bunion minimizes pain and allows you to continue a normal, active life. Taping helps keep the foot in a normal position, thus reducing stress and pain. Anti-Inflammatory Medication—Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections are often prescribed to ease the acute pain and inflammation caused by joint deformities.