Bunions (Hallux Valgus)
They aren’t the most flattering foot ailment, but bunions are quite common. About 30% of the population suffers from some type of bunion. While these bony bumps are quite prevalent, it’s safe to say that most people don’t quite understand what they are, how they form or how to prevent them.
What are bunions?
A bunion, or hallux valgus, is the result of the misalignment of the metatarsal and phalanx bones in your foot. For a variety of reasons, the phalanx bone can start to angle toward the second toe, causing the joint between the bones to become inflamed. The joint can become increasingly inflamed and continue to protrude, causing discomfort and pain. Untreated, the condition can worsen.
What Causes Bunions?
While the root cause of bunions is the misalignment of the joints in your toes, there are a variety of reasons why this may happen:
In many cases, bunions are the result of an inherited bone structure. Many bunions occur because of the passing down of a foot structure that is more prone to bunion formation. A foot structure in which the big toe leans toward the others is highly prone to the formation of bunions. Those who have a low arch are also more prone to bunions due to increased instability in the toe joint.
Foot injuries that affect the natural bone structure of the foot may also cause bunions. Damage to the joints in the big toe or other toes can make the foot bone structure more susceptible to bunions. This can be anything from a foot injury that alters your normal walk and causes a bunion to a foot injury that weakens the midfoot ligaments and makes the big toe more prone to misalignment.
While some may not agree that narrow-fitting footwear causes the formation of bunions, there’s no question that ill-fitting or narrow-fitting shoes increases the risk factors for bunions as well as escalates a pre-existing bunion condition. Shoes that are narrow-fitting or high-heeled concentrate pressure into the toes, forcing them toward the center. The constant use of narrow-fitting footwear can cause the bones in the foot to permanently restructure.
What Are the Risk Factors for Bunions
Although almost anyone can suffer from bunions, some are more at risk than others:
- People who work in occupations that require long periods of walking or standing (teachers, nurses, doctors, waiters, etc.)
- Pregnant women - hormonal changes may weaken ligaments and flatten feet
- People who suffer from any type of arthritis and have weaker joints and increased stiffness
- People who have a family history of bunions
What Are the Different Types of Bunions?
Adolescent bunions are those that occur in older children and young teenagers (around 10 to 15 years old). More common in young girls, adolescent bunions form at the base of the big toe. Adolescent bunions differ from typical bunions because they still allow for almost full movement in the affected toe joint. Typically treated with a change of footwear or use of orthotics, adolescent bunions are mainly inconvenient due to the discomfort and trouble wearing certain shoes.
Bunionette or Tailor’s Bunion
A bunionette, or “Tailor’s bunion,” is a bunion that occurs on the side of your little toe as opposed to your big toe. Typically, the causes of bunionettes are the same as for a normal bunion.
Diagnosis: Common Symptoms of Bunions
Although bunions are quite easy to spot, there can be some confusion as to whether you are suffering from a bunion or some other inflammatory ailment. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:
- A hard bump on the outside of your big toe
- Restricted range of motion of your big toe or joint
- The formation of corns/calluses
- Redness, soreness and swelling surrounding toe joints
- Consistent or constant periods of pain in the foot or toe
How Do You Treat or Prevent Bunions?
Changes in Footwear
In many cases, the formation of bunions is escalated by footwear that is narrow-fitting, especially in the toe area. Finding shoes that have a comfy, roomy fit is essential to the treatment and prevention of bunion formation. If you’re currently suffering from bunions, changing to a shoe that provides a roomier fit and relieves pressure in the toe area can prevent the escalation of the condition.
The use of orthotics or shoe inserts is one of the best ways to prevent and treat bunions. Since the cause is rooted in the altered biomechanics of the foot structure, using shoe inserts that ensure the weight of your foot is distributed evenly is essential. They’re also great for relieving a pre-existing bunion condition by redirecting your foot into a more natural, stable position. Any shoe inserts that support the arch of your foot can prevent overpronation and reduce the risk of bunion formation. These are some of our most popular orthotics for arch support:
Although often not a permanent solution, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, etc.), ibuprofen, naproxen and cortisone can temporarily help reduce inflammation, swelling and pain.
Applying ice is also a great way to reduce swelling for less serious bunion conditions. Icing your feet after a long day of walking or standing can also prevent inflammation and decrease the risk of forming bunions.
In very serious cases, there are surgical options to remove bunions. Here are some of the most common surgical procedures:
- Realigning the big toe with the removal of parts of the bone
- The permanent joining of the affected toe joints
- The removal of swollen tissue surrounding the affected toe joint
Questions on which orthotics are best for you? Feel free to contact our experts for more information on shoe inserts that are best for your personal foot type.