Find out what they are, what causes them, why you should seek professional help, and your treatment options below:
What is a Bunion?
A bunion is a large, painful bump located at the 1st metatarsophalangeal joint (MPJ) at the base of the big toe.
This bump represents a bony prominence that develops along the 1st MJP on the inside of the foot.
As the bunion grows larger, the changing joint structure causes the big toe to turn toward the other toes.
If the bunion goes untreated it can become painful over time. The patient may have to walk differently to relieve pressure on the bunion. Eventually it may be too painful to walk at all.
Anyone who notices these symptoms, or experiences a sudden sharp pain around the big toe, should visit a podiatrist for an exam.
What Causes Bunions?
Bunions tend to “run in families.” This is because foot shape and structure are hereditary and some foot types are more prone to bunions than others. These include feet with low arches, flat feet, and feet that point to the outside when a patient is running or walking (pronated feet).
A podiatrist can prescribe corrective footwear or shoe inserts (custom orthotics) to treat foot mechanics based on a careful analysis of the patient’s needs and lifestyle.
- Improper Footwear
Narrow-toed shoes may compress the end of the foot, forcing the big toe over or under the other toes. This leads to irregular motion that puts added pressure on the bony prominence at the 1st MPJ.
High-heeled shoes may make the problem worse by tilting the body’s weight forward, applying greater pressure and squeezing the toes together. A podiatrist can advise patients on avoiding these problems by choosing proper shoes.
- Occupational Hazards
For people with bunions, jobs that place excessive stress on the feet carry an increased risk of aggravating bunion pain and causing progression of a pre-existing bunion. Affected groups include police officers, teachers, nurses, dancers, athletes, and many others.
Any professional whose job involves a lot of standing or walking or requires a particular type of shoe or boot as part of a uniform needs to be careful that these shoes don’t increase pressure along the bony prominence as this can increase pain.
During pregnancy, weight loss and hormonal changes can lead to flattening of the feet and this can promote bunion formation.
Why Do Bunions Require Professional Help?
The 1st MPJ is essential for bearing and distributing the body’s weight properly. A bunion deforms this joint, preventing its proper function. A bunion may also deform other toes, leading to conditions like ingrown toenails, corns, calluses, or hammertoes.
Pain interferes with walking, exercise, and other activities. Bunion pain can contribute to disability and a sedentary lifestyle. As the bunion becomes larger and more uncomfortable, it may become too painful to wear shoes or even to walk.
When painful, bunions are a serious problem, and may become crippling unless treated promptly by a professional. Patients should not attempt to treat bunions themselves.
Many foot conditions have similar symptoms, and only a trained professional can tell the difference and provide the correct treatment. Treatment needs to start immediately after diagnosis.
What are the Treatment Options for Bunions?
Bunions are easiest to treat when they are caught early. Your podiatrist may advise you on proper shoes and better foot care or recommend orthotic devices.
Over-the counter pads may help temporarily relieve painful pressure and friction on the bunion. Icing the foot for 20 minutes per hour and elevating it regularly may also help to relieve pain.
Your podiatrist may also recommend an imaging study to assess the level of the deformity. Injectable steroids and local anesthetic may help relieve pain and inflammation around the bunion.
In some cases, your podiatrist may recommend corrective surgery to realign the joint and prevent more damage. The common surgeries are removing the bony protrusion only (bunionectomy) or cutting the bone and realigning the metatarsal bone (osteotomy).
The exact surgical procedure is determined by a combination of a thorough radiologic and clinical exam.
What to Do Now?
Dr. Jordan Stewart of the Timonium Foot and Ankle Center has extensive experience diagnosing and treating painful bunion conditions.
He has been able to help many of his patients relieve their pain and get back to their normal activities, which had become prohibitive because of their bunion(s).
If you are experiencing pain or discomfort due to bunions, or think you are developing a bunion and would like to treat it before it gets worse, give us a call today or fill out the form on the top right of this page, to schedule your appointment with Dr. Stewart.