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Bunions: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

By 

Babafemi Adebajo

 on December 31, 2021. 
Reviewed by 

Joel Taylor

Woman holding her right foot with a large bunion

A bunion looks like a bump on the outside of the base of your big toe. It is an abnormality of the foot bone which causes the big toe to bend away from its normal position towards the second toe. While usually painless at the early stage, the bunion on the big toe can become inflamed and cause more pain if left untreated. The pain is persistent or intermittent and is found in the metatarsophalangeal joint.

Bunions, also known as hallux valgus, are more common in adults than in adolescents. Other than age, ill-fitting shoes, genetics, and occupation can also predispose people to have bunions. You need to look out for the early signs of bunions and address them before it leads to permanent deformity and activity limitation. To do this, it is important to understand not just the causes, but what a bunion looks like, and possible treatments. We will cover all these in the article below.

Symptoms of Bunions

Bunions present with several symptoms, including:

  • Pain
  • Soreness
  • Numbness
  • Burning sensation
  • Redness
  • Swelling at the metatarsophalangeal joint

There can also be a thickening of the skin at the base of the affected toe, corns, calluses, and movement restrictions of the affected toe.

The pain caused by bunions can range from mild to severe depending on how long you’ve had them. It can also be either persistent or flare up intermittently. Again, it may simply be throbbing at night or worsening with activity throughout the day.

Common Causes of Bunions

There are several ways you can get bunions, such as:

  • Poor footwear An ill-fitting shoe with a narrow toe box or high heels can cause bunions to form.
  • Structural foot problems Low arches or familial history (genetics) can lead to a bunion on the big toe.
  • Other foot conditions Hypermobility, arthritis of the foot (mostly rheumatoid arthritis), and neuromuscular conditions like poliomyelitis can also cause bunions.
  • Activities or jobs that require prolonged standing

Aside from these factors, bunions are also statistically more common in females and older individuals.

Natural Treatments for Bunions

Bunions, if left untreated, can lead to complications like hammertoes, calluses, metatarsalgia, bursitis, and more. Thankfully, bunions can be easily treated using either a surgical or non-surgical approach, with the first line of treatment being conservative. Surgery must only be treated as a last option if the natural treatment proves ineffective. However, if addressed early, you can prevent bunions from getting worse.

To start with, you can use ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve any immediate pain and limit inflammation. Additionally, taping, shoe adjustments, and orthotics can help combat bunions. Taping your foot in a normal position reduces pressure on the affected area. Also with padded shoes, there is more room to move your toes. Tailor's bunion insoles can also be used to bring comfort and relieve pressure on the foot.

Orthotics for Treating Bunions

Orthotics are especially good in treating bunions. While there are over-the-counter orthotics, custom orthotics are preferable for the treatment of bunions. Custom orthotics, such as the ones provided by Upstep, are custom-built and designed to fit your foot specifications.

When used, they provide comfort and support while improving your balance and alignment, ensuring weight and pressure are distributed appropriately.

» Want to invest in orthotics? Browse Upstep's custom orthotics range to get started

When Is Surgery Required to Treat Bunions?

Against popular belief, not all bunions will require surgery. If conservative treatment can bring pain relief and prevent complications, then it should be pursued. However, if the conservative treatment does not begin at the early stages of the condition, the prognosis worsens and it becomes more likely that surgery may be needed.

If, after trying conservative management for a few months, the conditions get more severe or pain worsens, surgery may be considered as a last option. However, being the last resort does not mean it isn’t a good option as it can bring a permanent solution.

The surgical approach could include osteotomy, exostectomy, arthrodesis, and resection arthroplasty, depending on the severity of the condition at the time of presentation. Apart from reducing your symptoms, bunion surgery will also restore the shape of your foot.

No matter how mild the symptoms in your foot are, do not just assume they will disappear. Rather, the best thing is to see your doctor or a podiatrist as they will examine your foot and diagnose if it is a bunion, whether it is worsening or improving, and what you can do about it.

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