Ugh. That large bump protruding out of the base of your big toe? That’s a bunion, my friend.
The scientific name for it is as ugly as the bunion itself: hallux valgus. Hallux means big toe, and valgus means “turned away from the midline of the body.” It forms when your bone or tissue on the joint at the bottom of your big toe steps out of its proper place.
That joint is called the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, and the bunion happens when the first metatarsal bone of the foot turns outward and the big toe points inward (in the direction of the other toes). This causes the joint to jut out, which results in a lump, which is often painful. The skin around the joint thickens and can become inflamed and swollen.
How does this happen?
Wearing shoes that are too tight is the leading cause of bunions. Bunions are not hereditary, but they do tend to run in families, usually because of a faulty foot structure. Flat feet, and pronated feet can contribute to their formation. It is estimated that bunions occur in 33 percent of the population in Western countries.
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This is the joint that does all the heavy lifting while you’re walking, practically taking on the burden of every pound of your body weight with each step. So, yeah, the pain that comes with a bunion can be severe and constant.
People who do a lot of standing, like police, teachers and nurses, are susceptible to bunions, as are pregnant women, whose hormonal changes may loosen ligaments.
Arthritis sufferers often deal with bunions, as the cartilage within the joint gets damaged from the disease.
Treatment for Bunions
Because they are bone deformities, bunions do not resolve by themselves. The goal for bunion treatment is twofold: first, to relieve the pressure and pain caused by irritations, and second to stop any progressive growth of the enlargement. Commonly used methods for reducing pressure and pain caused by bunions include:
- Protective padding, often made from felt material, to eliminate the friction against shoes and help alleviate inflammation and skin problems.
- Removal of corns and calluses on the foot.
- Changing to carefully fitted footwear designed to accommodate the bunion and not contribute toward its growth.
- Orthotic devices-both over-the-counter and custom made-to help stabilize the joint and place the foot in the correct position for walking and standing.
- Splints for nighttime wear to help the toes and joint align properly. This is often recommended for adolescents with bunions, because their bone development may still be adaptable.
The bad news: bunions don’t go away. They’re permanent, unless surgically removed. If you have one that bothers you, see a podiatrist. If you want to ease the pain of an existing bunion, or stop any progressive growth of the deformity, follow these suggestions:
- Wear shoes that provide a good arch support and help prevent the foot from flattening. Keeping the foot straight reduces the pressure on the bunions, and helps to control the progression of the bunion deformity.
- Make sure that the footwear you buy is wide in the bunions area.
- Exercises to maintain joint mobility and prevent stiffness or arthritis.
- Maintain a normal weight.
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