Understanding Bunions

Bunions are one of the most common foot problems. It is a deformity at the base joint of the big toe. Technically referred to as Hallux Valgus, it may not cause any pain or discomfort and many people go through life without their bunions being a cause for concern. But bunions can also lead to inflammation and pain, often to the extent of affecting mobility. Dealing with bunions is easier if you understand what they are.

What exactly is a bunion?

The condition exists when the big toe is angled or tilted towards the adjacent second toe. This causes a bump to form on the side of the foot at the base of the big toe, next the joint that connects it to the foot. Usually, the skin and tissue next to the joint become hard and thick. Such hard thickened tissues and skin become inflamed, painful and swollen. A fluid filled sac may also develop over the joint.

Why do bunions develop?

Bunions develop when the pressure on the foot, caused by the shifting of body weight, falls unevenly on the joint and tendons of the feet. This results in a partial imbalance that makes the big toe unstable to the extent where it bends inwards towards the second toe. When this happens, the joint at the base of the big toe is molded into a hard knob that sticks out from the side of the foot. Experts differ on why this happens but some of the most accepted causes are:

  • Wearing shoes that are too tight, of the wrong shape or with excessively high heels. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons says that 90% of people with bunions are women. Another statistic is that over half the women in the U.S. suffer from bunions. This shows that narrow, pointed high heeled shoes are a major contributor to the development of bunions.
  • Foot injuries
  • Congenital deformities right from the time of birth
  • Inherited foot types that run in the family
  • Having flat feet
  • Inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis
Because the bunion projects out from the side of the foot, it tends to run against the inner side of a shoe, leading to the skin becoming thick and inflamed.

What happens if you have bunions?

Bunions can develop on one or both feet. Once a bunion forms, there is no way to shrink or remove it except for surgery. Most people with bunions accept them as an inevitable part of modern lifestyles where spending a long time on one’s feet and wearing shoes that may not be the most comfortable are part of the price that has to be paid. Because bunions typically develop very slowly, they are often unnoticed until the projection at the side of the foot is too prominent to be missed or the pain begins. If left untreated bunions can become increasingly painful and in severe cases, cause mobility problems that can impact daily activities.

Symptoms and Problems

Among the many signs of bunions, besides the visible projection from the side of the foot, are:
  • Pain when walking to the extent of making movement difficult
  • Inflammation of the big toe which can often become swollen and infected
  • An increase in the width of the foot requiring broader shoes to be worn
  • The development of arthritis in the big toe
  • Pressure on the second toe causing it to become deformed
  • In very severe cases, the big toe may push the second toe out of position.


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