Until you’ve experienced serious pain in your feet, joints, or toes, you may not realize just how debilitating conditions like bunions or arthritis can really be. Unfortunately, both bunions and arthritis are relatively common conditions. And while both may appear similar ––  and innocuous –– at first, the truth is that both can contribute to significant discomfort and even degradation of mobility over time. As such, today we’ll explain some of the subtle differences between bunions and foot-based arthritis. Here’s how to tell if you’re suffering from bunions or arthritis: 

What are Bunions?

A bunion (hallux valgus) is an enlarged bony lump on the outside of the foot that forms along the side of the big toe joint. The joint is referred to as the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP). Bunions tend to occur over long periods of time due to pressure placed on the foot –– specifically the joints, muscles, tendons, and bones along the big toe. While women and older individuals are more likely to experience bunions than the rest of the population, anyone can develop a bunion at any time in their life. 

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term that refers to conditions that adversely affect any joint in the body, not just the feet. For our purposes, we’ll focus on two specific types of arthritis that can contribute to foot joint damage –– namely, hallux limitus and hallux rigidus. These conditions may also be referred to as big toe joint arthritis, or in some instances, even “arthritic bunions.” 

Medically speaking, big toe joint arthritis can cause severe pain in the foot joints. Additionally, individuals with big toe joint arthritis may suffer from one or more bone spurs, which form near, on, or along the big toe. Though these bone spurs are technically different from bunions, they often look and feel very similar (I.E. red, swollen, and painful to the touch). What’s more, arthritis in the big toe joint can lead to the breakdown of cartilage in the big toe, which in turn can limit the range of motion possible. Hallux limitus refers to big toes that can only bend a little, while hallux rigidus describes a condition where the big toe cannot be moved at all because of an arthritic joint.

Bunions vs Arthritis

The main difference between arthritis and bunions is that arthritis can affect joints throughout the body. Bunions, on the other hand, are specific to the joints along the big and small toes. Note also that arthritic bone spurs usually occur on top of the big toe joint, as opposed to bunions that usually form on the side. Lastly, though bunions feel bony, they are not actually bone spurs themselves. 

Dealing with Bunions or Arthritis

The good news for people suffering from either bunions or arthritis is that the best way to deal with either problem is to schedule an appointment with a foot specialist ASAP. Both bunions and arthritis may become worse over time, which makes quick action essential to preventing and managing these issues. Note, in some instances, bunions themselves may even cause arthritis; the two conditions sometimes develop concurrently as well. With early intervention, though, many patients can prevent the formation of bunions and effectively manage –– if not fully relieve –– both bunion and arthritis pain. 

Contact Us

At Northwest Surgery Center, our team has years of experience helping people with various foot ailments find the relief they need. We’re experts in the field of minimally invasive surgery, and we can help you determine the perfect treatment option for any issue you’re facing. Contact us here to learn more about our process, or to schedule a free consultation today.