What are the causes of bunions? What you need to know about this painful condition

Perhaps it is time to reevaluate your shoe selections.

Your feet get a lot of punishment in exchange for minimal reward. They run on pavement and pound furniture corners.

Bunions can be a foot problem that many people experience. In extreme cases, they can make it very painful to walk or exercise.

According to Jeffrey R. DeSantis DPM (President of the American Podiatric Medical Association), about one in five people will develop a bunion or bunion in their lifetime. It’s a common condition, so you must know what to look for and your options if there’s suspicion. Here’s how to recognize them.

What is a bunion?

According to the US National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus resource, a bunion, sometimes referred to as hallux valgus, forms when your big toe starts pointing toward the second toe. A bump will form on your big toe.

The bump you see is not your typical bump. It’s a metatarsophalangeal deformity (MTP joint). When your significant toe shifts, that MTP joint is moved out of alignment, and it starts to protrude and becomes inflamed, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS).

According to the AAOS, bunions tend to grow from minor bumps and get larger over time. This is because the affected MPT joint flexes with every step. As a result, the bunion gets more significant, more painful, and more brutal to walk on.

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What causes bunions

John Kennedy, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at NYU Langone, tells Health that doctors don’t have all the information they need to understand why bunions form. Dr Kennedy says that many theories have been put forward to explain bunions. However, there is no one cause.

Nevertheless, the AAOS lists a few possible risk factors that could cause bunions.

  • Genetics (you might inherit the likelihood of developing bunions in your family).
  • Not wearing shoes that fit correctly, such as shoes with a narrow point at the toes
  • Certain inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Certain neuromuscular disorders, such as Polio, can be caused by certain neuromuscular diseases.

Bunions can also be more common among people who are more likely to wear narrower or tighter shoes. According to Harvard Health, those who work in jobs that require a lot of time on their feet (think: teachers and nurses) can have an increased risk of developing a bunion, as can ballet dancers who regularly put their feet through a lot of trauma and stress.

What are the symptoms and signs of bunions?

Bunions can be present at any age. However, they tend to be more annoying later in life. Dr Kennedy says that “Bunions symptoms get more severe with age.”

The AAOS lists the following symptoms as bunions:

  • Pain/tenderness
  • A corn or callus on the bump
  • Redness
  • The bottom of your feet should have hardened skin
  • Stiffness or restricted motion of your big toe (which can lead to difficulty in walking)
  • Inflammation

How are bunions diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects you’re suffering from a bunion, they’ll likely ask you questions about your medical history and examine your foot. According to the AAOS, they might order an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.

After being diagnosed, your doctor may suggest non-surgical remedies such as changing your footwear. The AAOS states that in most cases, bunion pain can easily be treated by wearing shoes that fit well and don’t compress your toes. It might help to ice your bunion and take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen.

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Your doctor might recommend surgery for the bunion to be removed if you are experiencing severe pain. According to MedlinePlus, a bunionectomy is a procedure that involves the surgeon realigning the big toe and removing the bony bump. Dr DeSantis said that he only recommends the approach to patients who have exhausted all other options.

The good news? Most patients who choose a bunionectomy do not need to wear a band afterwards. Dr DeSantis said that it is possible to walk normally again in as little as 90 days after the procedure.

Are bunions possible to avoid?

MedlinePlus says that wearing correctly fitting shoes that don’t compress your toes can help prevent bunions. Dr DeSantis emphasizes that it’s essential to see a qualified specialist as soon you think you may have a bunion. It’s much easier to treat bunions if they are caught early. “The most common thing I see in private medicine is that patients will delay seeking treatment because they fear the consequences,” he said. He explained that a quicker appointment could make a difference between having surgery or other less-invasive options.

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