A bunion is a deformity affecting the joint at the base of your big toe. Bunions develop gradually over time, and many people may have had a bunion developing for a while before symptoms are felt or become visible.

In this article, we will cover:

  • What are bunions
  • What cause bunions
  • Bunion Symptoms
  • Symptoms and diagnosing bunions
  • Self-care tips for dealing with bunion pain
  • Choosing shoes when you have bunions
  • Treatment options

What are Bunions?

A bunion is a bony protrusion that juts out from the big toe. Bunions can also develop on the side of the small toe. These bunions are called bunionettes or tailor bunions and are a much less common condition.

The visible protrusion is caused by the misaligned big toe and is not a bony growth, as some people believe.

What Causes Bunions?

The exact causes of bunions are somewhat of a mystery, but most experts believe there are a few contributing factors that can make a person more prone to getting them.

While most bunions are brought on by faulty foot mechanics, rheumatoid arthritis can contribute to their development when it affects the big toe joint.

A few of other possible causes include:

  • Genetics
  • Injury or trauma to the foot
  • Narrow footwear such as high-heels
  • Flat feet or low arches

Certain types of feet tend to be more prone to bunion development than others. As genetics determines what kind of foot a person will have, bunions can run in the family.

Shoes that push the toes together and put pressure on the big toe are thought to be a leading culprit in bunion development. When shoe choice is combined with a bunion prone foot type, the chance of bunions is significantly increased.

High heels put pressure on the toes and crowd them together, which is a compelling argument for why women are more prone to bunions than men.

Diagnosing Bunions and Symptoms

Bunion x-ray at Northwest Surgery Center

X-raying foot for possible bunion 

Diagnosing a bunion is as easy as looking at your foot, as the bone deformity is highly visible. However, to understand the full extent of the problem, your foot doctor will most likely ask for an X-ray.

Bunions can vary in size but will never go away once you get one. Over time, a growing bunion can push the big toe out of alignment.

Other symptoms of bunions include:

  • A hard bony lump on the side of your foot (where the big toe joins the rest of your foot).
  • A big toe which points in towards the smaller toes
  • Inflammation around the lump
  • Pain along bottom or side of your foot (which gets worse when wearing shoes or walking)

Self-Care and Dealing with Bunion Pain

Most people live with bunions without any problems. However, to prevent bunion pain from becoming an issue, there are many home remedies available to treat the condition and ease bunion pain.

Finding Relief from Bunion Pain

When you’re dealing with constant bunion pain, the following strategies may help to provide some relief.

  • Use simple stretching exercises for the feet to improve flexibility and prevent stiffness
  • Swelling can be reduced by soaking your feet in cold, but not ice-cold, water.
  • If the big toe joint is stiff, a warm foot bath may loosen it up a little. A warm, moist towel can also be used in place of the foot bath.
  • Treat severe swelling and pain with an ice pack. Apply the pack to the affected area for about 10 to 15 minutes a day. Use a thin towel or wipe to avoid direct placement of the pack against the skin.
  • Take off your shoes and elevate your feet slightly to promote blood flow and reduce the pressure from inflammation.

Choosing Footwear When You Have Bunion Pain

Choosing Footwear When You Have Bunion Pain

Proper footwear makes a difference when dealing with bunion pain

Comfortable footwear can significantly reduce the pain and discomfort your bunions may be causing you. It’s essential to choose shoes that are a perfect fit. Even seemingly sensible shoes with low heels and square toes may cause discomfort if they don’t fit properly.

Feet can change in shape and size over the years, and even small changes can cause pain if you have bunions. The same shoe sizes you see on the shelf in the department store can vary tremendously between different brands. Sizes that feel loose in one brand may be excessively tight and uncomfortable in another.

Get your feet properly measured every few years. Specialty running shoe stores will do a comprehensive investigation into not just your shoe size, but also your running and walking gaits, arches, and foot alignment.

Armed with this information, the staff at these stores can help you choose the right shoes for your feet, and even recommend custom orthopedics or arch supports if needed. Shoes that fit correctly are the best way to ensure your toes aren’t subjected to undue pressure.

If they are loose, your toes can slip forward and get squashed together. Shoes that are too tight will also put too much pressure onto the toes.

Shoe Buying Considerations for Easing Bunion Pain

You will have an excellent chance at finding the best shoes for your bunion afflicted feet if you keep the following considerations in mind:

  • Moderately flexible – not too stiff, not too sloppy
  • Heels lower than 2-inches
  • Malleable material such as soft leather or canvas
  • Make sure there is enough room for insoles or bunion pads
  • Toe box with plenty of wriggle room
  • Reasonably flexible sole

Shoe Inserts

Toe spacers to ease bunion pain

Toe splints and spacers are only a temporary solution

Shoe inserts provide extra padding to protect the bunion and prevent it from rubbing against the inside of the shoe. Many shoe inserts are also designed to force the toes back into their natural position.

Bunion Pads and Toe Spacers

Bunion pads reduce the pressure on the bunion while wearing shoes so that they will work best in shoes with a wide toe box. You can get disposable bunion pads which are applied via way of an adhesive strip or purchase special socks or booties with the bunion pads woven into the fabric.

A toe spacer is made from shaped plastic or foam and are designed to sit between the toes to help correct the toe alignment.

Treatments and Medications for Bunion Pain

For severe bunion pain, your doctor may prescribe a cortisone injection into the sac surrounding the big toe (called the bursa). Cortisone is a steroid that provides relief against inflammation.

For less severe pain, your GP may recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.

Patient After Minimally Invasive Bunion Surgery

Patient After Minimally Invasive Bunion Surgery

Bunion Treatment Options

Bunions can develop to the point where home solutions and over-the-counter remedies fail to provide adequate relief. For these situations, bunion surgery may be an option.

Fortunately, modern techniques mean that there is nothing to fear from bunion surgery, as it’s quite quick and painless. Most people will be able to have their bunions removed in only one session and won’t have to take time off work.

If you think it’s time you dealt with your bunion pain once and for all, visit Northwest Surgery Center, where you will be able to discuss all your options with a professional bunion surgery specialist.