Bunions occur around the bottom of the big toe near the joint. They are an enlarged bump of tissue or bone that causes swelling and tenderness. You may notice a large bump on the outside of the base of your big toe with the toe pointing inward.
More women than men suffer from bunions and they affect around 4.4 million people each year. The most likely cause is improper fitting shoes that are too tight and surgery is not always a 100% cure. Prevention is key! This article will help you understand bunions, their treatment and how to prevent them.
Bunion symptoms can vary from person to person, some may have all the symptoms and others only one or two. The symptoms are:
Pain near the big toe joint that is constant or occasional
A large bump at the base of the big toe near the joint
Redness and swelling of the big toe
Chronic corns in between the big toe and the second toe
Trouble moving the big toe
Thickened skin and callouses on the outside of the big toe
A bunion is inflammation in the bursa (a sac of fluid) that cushions the joint in the big toe. Bunions are caused when the joint is turned too far inward by tight shoes or even genetics. As the joint moves sideways, the “bursa” sac becomes irritated and becomes inflamed. The body then starts taking protective measures by producing thicker skin, tissue, and bone in the area. This is what causes the abnormal bump in the area.
Genetics. If you have a family history of bunions, you may be susceptible to them. This is because the structure of your foot is somewhat predetermined by your genes.
Wearing High Heels. High heels or pointy toed shoes restrict the movement of your toes and pushes them inward.
Improper Fitted Shoes. Anyone, male or female that wears improperly fitted shoes can get bunions. Shoes should not be too narrow or tight and pointy shoes should be avoided.
Arthritis Sufferers. Arthritis in your lower body may affect the toe joint and pull the toe inward. Arthritis anywhere in your lower body could cause you to stand or walk differently and increase your risk of bunions.
If you have symptoms of a bunion, check with your doctor. They can usually tell right away if you have a bunion. They will check your big toe for movement and check for the following:
Tenderness (pain) to touch
Swelling and redness
Large bump on the outside of the big toe
You may need an x-ray and possibly be referred to a foot doctor (podiatrist) for further evaluation.
Treatment for bunions involves a few different things; taking the pressure off the affected area, increasing comfort and pain relief, and possible surgery. Treatments include:
Properly Fitting Shoes. Shoes need to have a good width, low heels and flexible soles. Good shoes are sandals with open toes, soft leather shoes, and athletic shoes. You may also want to consider using a shoe stretcher when shoes are not in use.
Moleskin or Gel Pads. You can get a good bunion pad over-the-counter at your local pharmacy. These can be placed into the shoe at the level of the bunion or on your foot.
Orthotics. The podiatrist can have orthotics made that go into your shoes and keep your foot in the proper position.
Steroid Injections. The podiatrist may choose to give you steroid injections to reduce pain and inflammation. This is often one of the last resorts due to side-effects.
Surgery. If some of the conservative approaches above do not work, you may opt for surgical treatment. If you have a mild to moderate bunion, the doctor can perform a bunionectomy. The bone and excess tissue will be taken off and tendons, muscles and ligaments put back in proper alignment.
Severe bunions require an osteotomy. This means the doctor has to cut into the bone, rotate it back into place and affix it with screws.
Lifestyle Tips & Prevention For Bunions
The following lifestyle tips may help relieve bunions and even prevent them:
Wear properly fitting wide toed shoes
Avoid heels higher than 2 ¼ inches, even less is better
Use bunion pads on the big toe joint
Use ice packs to reduce inflammation and pain
If the doctor okays it, use an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like Advil or Motrin for any pain.
Use a foot spa
Epsom Salt Soaks
Epsom salts can help to reduce inflammation locally by soaking the foot in a foot bath with ½ cup placed in warm water. Soak for 20 minutes a few times daily.
Try a warm olive oil massage directly on the bunion and lower part of your foot. You can massage your foot 15 minutes a day. This can increase blood flow to the area and promote movement of the fluid in the bursa sac.
This is the chemical in red peppers that helps relieve pain. If your skin tolerates it without turning red or stinging, you can place some red pepper juice on the bunion, cover with petroleum jelly and cover with gauze.
Stretching the muscles around the toe can help realign them and straighten the toe. Point the toes straight, hold 5 seconds. Curl your toes under, hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times and do this daily.