What is a Bunion and what causes it? Everything you need to know.
Bunions are bony bumps on the side of your foot, just at the joint where your big toe is attached to your foot. Bunions slowly develop over time and cause the big toe to turn inwards, towards the other toes.
What exactly is a bunion?
The medical term for a bunion is hallux valgus. Bunions are the result of a displacement of the bone or tissue at the joint connecting your big toe to your foot. This joint is called metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint in medical terms. In this joint, the first long bone of the foot (metatarsal) meets the first bone of the toe (phalanx). The displacement leads to abnormal motion and increased pressure on this joint. Over years, the abnormal motion and pressure slowly causes a change in the alignment of the bones causing the big toe to turn inwards, sometimes even moving on top of the toe next to it. As a consequence the joint is pushed outwards, causing the bunion bump. The same condition on the little toe is called bunionette or “tailors toe”.
Who suffers from bunions?
Women suffer from bunions about 10 times more often than men. One factor that seems to promote the development of bunions is the long term choice of footwear – high heels and pointy toes, which squeeze your toes together are probably one of the reasons why women are more often affected by bunions than men. Certain professions which involve a lot of standing or foot work (such as nurses, flight attendants and ballet dancers) also are more prone to develop bunions due to the continued stress on their feet. In teenagers, bunions most often affect girls between 10 and 15. Adolescent bunions, as opposed to adult bunions, however are most often associated to a genetic disposition. Despite the prevalence of females suffering from bunions, men and boys can also develop bunions.
What does a bunion feel and look like?
Bunions initially just look like the joint connecting the big toe to your foot is bulging out a little. Over time this bulging develops into real bump that might become red and swollen due to the increased pressure on this bump. The bump might hurt and your big toe might become stiff making it difficult to move your toes and walk. Due to increased pressure and rubbing on the bump, you might develop blisters on the bunion and over time, the skin on the bunion might harden to form a corn or callus.
What causes bunions?
The causes for bunions are not yet quite clear, but there seem to be three different routes of developing bunions.
- Either a genetic disposition to develop bunions runs in your family,
- You have an underlying inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or slight deformities of your foot, which make your joint swell which pushes the big toe towards the others from the inside,
- Or the toe is pushed from the outside, by, for example, shoes that are too narrow at the tip, which causes the joint to compress.
The last point is rarely the only cause for a bunion, but is frequently the cause of the development of bunions on feet, susceptible to bunion development due to one of the other two conditions being present.
What are the stages of bunion development?
Initially bunions are small and perhaps remain unnoticed for a while. However, they usually get worse over time. The progression depends on several factors, such as your choice of shoes, the type of your exercise and your weight. These factors directly affect the pressure on the MTP joint with every step you take. The pain increases, the bigger the bunion gets.
An advanced bunion is not only painful, but also changes the appearance of your foot. In extreme cases, the big toe might even lie on top of the neighboring toe. Blisters or calluses might develop on the bunion or between the toes, adding to the discomfort experienced due to the bunion itself.
Eventually, bunions can lead to the inflammation of the MTP joint. This can lead to the joint becoming stiff and damage the joint’s cartilage causing chronic pain and arthritis.
What to do when I have a bunion?
Bunions can only be removed by surgery, but rarely require surgery. If an underlying deformity is the cause of your bunion then, you are more likely to need surgery. Their progression and the symptoms can usually be managed and treated by conservative methods. The best methods for bunion management is to avoid increased pressure on the joint as much as possible. This can be achieved by avoiding high heels or narrow shoes in favour of comfortable footwear. Padding of the bunion, for example by using COMPEED® Bunion Plasters provides additional comfort. COMPEED® is a specialist hydrocolloidal plaster specifically designed to relieve pressure on bunions.The pain can also be alleviated by cooling or pain medication.
If you want to find out more about how to treat your bunion(s), keep on reading here.
When should I seek medical advice?
You should consult a doctor immediately if you have diabetes, since the cause of the bunion might be related to a diabetic foot problem.
If the pain is persistent or so strong that it affects your daily activities, you should seek medical advice. You should also consult a doctor or health care practitioner if the condition doesn’t improve after a couple of weeks of home treatment or if the condition worsens.