So you’ve noticed a bump on the inside of your big toe joint and from seeing your parents or grandparents feet, you know exactly what it is: a bunion. And because you’ve seen bunions in your family, you know that this is just the beginning, and that it can get a lot worse.
So why has your bunion formed, what should you do about it, and how bad can bunions get? Today, the team at Cartwright Podiatry are talking all about bunions.
First things first: What counts as a bunion
A bunion looks like a bulge on the inside of the big toe at the ball of the foot. This bulge is the changing position of your big toe joint, with the big toe turning inwards towards the other toes initially, and overriding or underriding the toes as the bunion gets to the later stages. If your bunion is rubbing against your shoe, it may also be red or have some callus on the side of the bunion.
Bunions can be either flexible or rigid. In the early stages, like when you first notice your bunion, it is likely still in the early flexible stage. This means that if you move your big toe with your fingers, you’re able to move and manipulate the toe and it moves without restriction.
Rigid bunions cannot be straightened by hand, instead remaining stiff and in place. This reflects changes to this joint itself, which will likely have been developing over quite some time. Stiff bunions are more likely to cause pain and other problems.
Why have I developed a bunion?
You’re not alone – it’s estimated that up to 23% of those aged between 18 and 65 years, and up to 35% of those aged over 65 years have bunions.
Many people believe that bunions just run in families, though this is only partly true. What actually runs in families is characteristics of feet and bones, like the shape of your bones or the tendency to roll in or have flatter feet, for example. When you’re constantly rolling in on the inside of your feet, you’re applying more force to the outside of the big toe with every step, and over time a bunion can form in this way.
The other common cause of bunions we see is from a person’s choice of shoes. Wearing tight, narrow, pointed or unsupportive shoes daily can push on and compress your forefoot, assisting the formation of bunions.
Other causes and contributing factors according to studies include instability at the feet, hypermobility (extreme flexibility), arthritis and other medical conditions, and the amount of time you spend on your feet daily.
How bad do bunions get?
Unless bunions are cared for or the causes are addressed, they’ll gradually worsen over time. Here’s an example of the stages you may see.
Do bunions become painful?
Bunions can become painful. This often happens when you can no longer fit shoes well to your feet because of the change in shape and width of your forefoot. This means your shoes will constantly be rubbing against the bunion, and it’ll be painful. Your gait, meaning the way you walk, may also cause bunion pain if you’re putting excess pressure on the big toe with every step.
What should I be doing to treat my bunion?
If you’re in the early stages of your bunion, then it’s the prime time to have it treated and encourage your big toe to straighten up. We can help you with this in a number of ways, and the right way will depend on what’s causing your bunion.
For example, if you pronate (roll inwards) significantly with every step because of your foot biomechanics and this is putting excess pressure on the big toe joint which is in turn causing your bunion, helping change and correct that pronation will help stop your bunion from progressing. If your shoes are only adding to the problem, changing shoes will also help. If your bunion is still flexible, using both with a bunion splint or other treatment we offer can help straighten the early bunion.
Other ways to help your bunion range from bunion strapping to joint mobilisation, foot exercises if any tightness or weakness is identified at your feet, custom foot orthotics to correct biomechanical problems that are causing your bunion, and more.
If your bunion is rigid and won’t budge, we can still help. The goal of your care will be to stop any pain you’re experiencing during walking, help you find footwear that is comfortable for your (wider) feet, and manage any problems like corns and callus that have arisen as a result of your bunion.
I don’t have a bunion yet, what can I do to prevent it from starting?
Understand the pressure currently being applied to your big toe with a biomechanical assessment. The common denominator of bunions is force being applied to the foot that pushes the big toe inwards over a period of time. If you can address that now, you can help prevent your bunion from developing – or slow the progress down significantly.
If you’re concerned about your feet, we’re here to help.
Here at Cartwright Podiatry, our podiatrists have a comprehensive understanding of the feet, their anatomy and biomechanics. We’ll start by assessing your bunion as knowing its severity, flexibility, characteristics and likely causes will serve as the base of your care plan.