Is a Bunion?
A bunion is an enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe—the
metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint—that forms when the bone or tissue at
the big toe joint moves out of place. This forces the toe to bend toward
the others, causing an often painful lump of bone on the foot. Since
this joint carries a lot of the body’s weight while walking, bunions
can cause extreme pain if left untreated. The MTP joint itself may
become stiff and sore, making even the wearing of shoes difficult or
impossible. Bunions– from the Latin "bunio," meaning
enlargement–can also occur on the outside of the foot along the little
toe, where it is called a "bunionette" or "tailor’s
- Development of a firm bump on the outside edge of the foot, at the
base of the big toe.
- Redness, swelling, or pain at or near the MTP joint.
- Corns or other irritations caused by the overlap of the first and
- Restricted or painful motion of the big toe.
How Do You Get a Bunion?
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 in the joint and cause the deformity. They are brought about
by years of abnormal motion and pressure over the MTP joint. They are,
therefore, a symptom of faulty foot development and are ususally caused
by the way we walk, and our inherited foot type, our shoes, or other
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 on to their children,
who, in turn, are also 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.
Other causes of bunions are foot injuries, neuromuscular disorders, or
congenital deformities. People who suffer from flat feet or low arches
are also prone to developing these problems, as are arthritic patients
and those with inflammatory joint disease. Occupations that place undue
stress on the feet are also a factor; ballet dancers, for instance,
often develop the condition.
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.
What Can You Do For Relief?
- Apply a commercial, nonmedicated bunion pad around the bony
- Wear shoes with a wide and deep toe box.
- If your bunion becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs
several times a day to reduce swelling.
- Avoid high-heeled shoes over two inches tall.
- See your podiatric physician if pain persists.
Conservative Treatment For Bunion Pain
Treatment options vary with the type and severity of each bunion,
although identifying the deformity early in its development is important
in avoiding surgery. Podiatric medical attention should be sought at the
first indication of pain or discomfort because, left untreated, bunions
tend to get larger and more painful, making nonsurgical treatment less
of an option.
The primary goal of most early treatment options is to relieve pressure
on the bunion and halt the progression of the joint deformity. A
podiatric physician may recommend these treatments:
- Padding & Taping
Often the first step in a treatment plan, padding the bunion
minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active
life. Taping helps keep the foot in a normal position, thus reducing
stress and pain.
Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections are often
prescribed to ease the acute pain and inflammations caused by joint
- Physical Therapy
Often used to provide relief of the inflammation and from bunion
pain. Ultrasound therapy is a popular technique for treating bunions
and their associated soft tissue involvement.
Shoe inserts may be useful in controlling foot function and may
reduce symptoms and prevent worsening of the deformity.
When early treatments fail or the bunion progresses past the
threshold for such options, podiatric surgery may become necessary to
relieve pressure and repair the toe joint.
Several surgical procedures are available to the podiatric physician The
surgery will remove the bony enlargement, restore the normal alignment
of the toe joint, and relieve pain.
A simple bunionectomy, in which only the bony prominence is removed, may
be used for the less severe deformity. Severe bunions may require a more
involved procedure, which includes cutting the bone and realigning the
Recuperation takes time, and swelling and some discomfort are common for
several weeks following surgery. Pain, however, is easily managed with
medications prescribed by your podiatric physician.