What Causes Bunions and How to Prevent Them

Mon, Apr 25, 2022

What Causes Bunions and How to Prevent Them

Bunions are bony growths that appear on the side of the big toe, and in some cases, on the little toe. Often painful, bunions can make it difficult to find shoes that fit comfortably and limit the movement of your toe and foot.

But what causes bunions? Are they treatable? At North Carolina Specialty Hospital, our team of podiatric surgeons is experienced in treating a wide range of conditions that affect the foot and ankle, including bunions. Although bunion surgery is typically only recommended in cases where other treatments have been ineffective, understanding what causes bunions and how to prevent them can help reduce your risk for this common condition.

What Causes Bunions: From Genetics to Footwear

Bunions occur when the bones in your foot move out of place, causing your big toe to shift toward the other toes and the toe joint to stick out from the side of your foot. The joint typically becomes inflamed, and the skin on the outside of the toe can also look red.

A woman massages her foot, with a bunion highlighted in red.

Bunions usually start small but can progress without treatment or changes to your habits. In severe cases, the shifting of the joint can cause the big toe to angle over or under the second toe. The misalignment can eventually lead to issues with the other toes, including corns and calluses, making walking difficult or painful.

Women are more prone to bunions than men. While some people have a genetic predisposition to bunions, the most common cause is wearing inappropriate footwear. Consistently wearing shoes that are too tight in the toe box, especially those with pointed toes, pushes your toes into an unnatural position that can force the bones and joints out of alignment. Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s not high-heeled shoes that cause bunions. Wearing heels can intensify discomfort, but it’s the shape of the shoe, not the heel, that causes bunions.

Certain inflammatory conditions, like arthritis, can also cause bunions. People with flat feet or low arches are also at a higher risk, as are those who put excessive amounts of stress on their feet, such as dancers.

Symptoms and Treatment of Bunions

The most obvious sign that you have a bunion is the appearance of a bump on the side of your big toe joint. The bump will be firm and might appear swollen or resemble a callus.

Other symptoms include:

  • Redness, pain, and swelling at the base of your big toe
  • Inability to move your big toe, or severe pain when you do
  • Hammertoes
  • Calluses on the ball of your foot.
  • Corns or calluses caused by the big toe overlapping the second toe

In most cases, medical treatment isn’t necessary for a small bunion. Wearing shoes with a wide toe box that gives your toes plenty of space and using a bunion pad on the bump to reduce pressure and friction are all you need to do in most cases. Using ice packs or taking an over-the-counter pain reliever can also help alleviate occasional discomfort.

If you have ongoing or severe bunion pain, the bump continues to get larger, or your other toes are affected, see a doctor. They may recommend physical therapy or orthotics to help manage the pain and prevent further damage.

When Is Surgery an Option?

If conservative methods do not help with the pain or if the bunion worsens, your podiatrist may recommend a bunionectomy. There are several different surgical approaches depending on the severity of the bunion. In some cases, only the bony overgrowth is removed, while in others, the surgeon also realigns the toe joint.

The podiatric surgeons of NCSH are committed to helping you live as pain-free as possible. If bunion surgery is necessary to treat your bunion, they will recommend the least invasive procedure possible. If you’re concerned about your feet and want to explore treatment options, book an appointment with a podiatrist at North Carolina Specialty Hospital today.


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