What is a Bunion?
Bunions can be painful and difficult to treat. This article will go over what a bunion is, how the occur, and how you can treat and prevent them.

What is a Bunion? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.

By Clark on June 2nd, 2014

What is a Bunion?

bunion on a left foot

A bunion, also known as hallux valgus deformity, is a bony lump that pokes out of the side of the foot, at the point where your big toe connects to the main part of the foot. This is an unnatural formation that occurs when the big toe is pressed inwards towards the smaller toes. This pressure in turn pushes the first metatarsal outwards, causing pain and inflammation in the area. Sometimes the big toe is pushed over or below the other toes, and bunions can even happen in smaller toes themselves (this is sometimes referred to as a 'bunionette')

Bunions form at a point where there is naturally a lot of pressure in the foot. The portion of skin that sticks out is often damaged due to excess pressure and friction at the site. This can eventually lead to callouses and more pain in the bunion. Bunions are internally painful as well due to the swelling of the toe joint. Bunions may also make the big toe stiff and inflexible.

What are the Symptoms of a Bunion?

Often times people that have bunions experience redness and swelling around the site of the bunion. The appearance of the toes will look shifted outwards in severe cases. Blistering and callouses may frequently form in the toe area as well, since a bunion effectively widens the foot and makes certain shoes hard to fit into.

Internally, bunion pain may be felt when trying to move the big toe or if the joint comes into contact with external objects (as often happens with the foot, especially when not protected by a shoe). The toes are quite complex and pain may be felt in multiple places as a result of hallux valgus deformities. Bursitis may also occur in persons with severe bunion deformities.

If you aren't sure whether you're experiencing bunion pain or something else, it would be a good idea to go to a doctor. They can x-ray your foot and see how severe your bunions are, or find out if it's another issue that is causing your foot pain.

What Causes Bunion Deformities?

It is generally accepted that wearing tight fitting shoes is a major contributing factor to bunions. Bunions are rare in cultures that don't wear shoes, so it could definitely be a major part of why so many people in the west have bunions.

normal shoe vs tight shoe

Research has also shown that bunions are a genetic issue. Weak tendons, muscles, and misaligned bones may contribute to bunion deformity as well. These biomechanical issues can exacerbate the formation of bunions when coupled with a pair of tight shoes that are worn over a long period of time.

How do I Treat a Bunion?

If you can catch it early enough, the best treatment for a bunion is a type of bunion splint that holds the toe in proper alignment.

bunion splint

This sort of splint can be worn at night or during the day, whenever is most comfortable. It will hold the big toe in place allowing it to heal while also relieving pain and inflammation associated with the bunion deformation. RICEing the afflicted area may help relieve the painful symptoms that accompany bunions. Over the counter painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs may help with the symptoms as well. Various other orthotics and treatments exist to hold the toe in place.

before and after bunion surgery

For more advanced cases, surgery may be the best option. A surgeon can physically remove portions of the bone and re-align the toe to it's proper position. This will require some healing time, but may be the best option for extremely painful bunions that aren't receptive to splint treatments.

The best treatment should ultimately be decided by your doctor. They will be able to inspect the bunion and determine how serious the deformity is and what you need to do to fix it.

Can Bunions Be Prevented?

Bunions can most likely be prevented by wearing shoes that give your toes plenty of space. When the toes are cramped together for many days in a row, bunions form more easily. Shoes that put pressure on the toe joint are not preferable as those can form bunions as well. High heels and shoes that don't fit or are too small can form bunions.

Excessive pronation may also cause bunions - this is when the foot 'rolls' inwards. Pronation can be fixed with special orthotics that add support to the foot arch. If you catch a bunion in the early stages, it can be prevented with a night splint or toe separators.