Bunions are more than a bump on your foot. They’re a major bump in the road that can cause pain so severe you’re left with reduced mobility and a disrupted lifestyle. As your big toe shifts inward toward your other toes and the outside of your foot, a boney bump forms that can be irritated when shoes are worn. Pain is also caused by crowding of the other toes and increased pressure on your foot.
The formation of bunions often happens slowly and painfully. Over time, pressure on the big toe joint that causes the shift transforms the ligaments, tendons, and bones in the foot, leading to the formation of a bunion that will gradually get worse if left untreated. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to prevent bunions before they begin to form as well as treatment options if you do find yourself suffering from this painful problem.
Breaking Down the Anatomy of a Bunion
Our feet are complex components of our body! They carry us where we need to go with an incredible 26 bones and dozens of tendons and ligaments in each. Understanding bunion formation is relatively simple because the deformity is localized at the big toe. Bunions form where the first bone of the big toe (phalanx) meets the largest of the two joints in the toe, the MTP (metatarsophalangeal joint).
When the MTP joint moves out of alignment, the phalanx bones of the big toe start to angle inward, and the MTP joint starts to protrude, forming a painful and inflamed bump on the inside of the foot. (1)
The degree of severity depends on how the bunion is treated and how long it is left to progress. Because they worsen over time, bunions can range from very mild at the beginning to extremely debilitating in severe cases leading to excruciating pain and even immobility. The pressure of the big toe crowding the smaller toes can lead to other problems with foot health, including hammer toe deformities, arthritis, and calluses.
3 Steps for Bunion Prevention
While there has been a genetic component linked to bunions, and it’s not guaranteed that you can avoid getting them altogether, there are steps you can take that are proven to reduce your risk! A few simple adjustments in your routine can help you prioritize your foot health and contribute to more comfortable feet for years to come. Don’t let bunions keep you on the sidelines. Get ahead of them with these three easy prevention strategies: (2)
1.) Choose wider shoes -- Did you know bunions are almost twice as common in women as in men? One of the reasons is likely the constricting footwear that is so commonly paired with women’s fashion. Pointy shoes like high heels or flats can crowd toes together and force the MTP joint out of alignment, encouraging bunion formation. To allow your toes room to move with you, make sure you are selecting shoes with a wide toe box. Proper fit is also important, as there should be space between the tips of your toes and the end of your shoe.
2.) Rest your feet -- In the same way, your mind needs to relax after a taxing day, your feet need some TLC following hours of walking or standing. Even if you don’t feel like your shoes are constricting, it can be helpful to take your shoes off and let your feet move freely throughout the day. Even if it’s only a few minutes at a time, your feet will thank you. Take time to sit or lie down to relieve some pressure off your feet either throughout the day or at the end of the day because ultimately, our feet get a lot of use, and they can easily get overworked, leading to serious problems like bunions.
3.) Strengthen your feet with stretches -- If you wanted to be more flexible, you would stretch every day. Your feet are no exception! In order to strengthen the muscles and tendons in your feet and reduce the risk of misalignment that causes bunions, you can do several types of foot stretches.
Curls: Sit in a chair and curl your toes around an object on the floor as you roll it towards you.
Pick Ups: Sit in a chair and pick up several small items on the floor with your toes. Try to put them in a bucket.
Stretching: Pull up your toes with an exercise band and push back as it’s stretched.
Treatment for Bunions: At Home and Beyond
While bunions can’t be reversed without surgical intervention, there are ways to reduce the discomfort and inconvenience in the early stages of bunion formation as well as prevent them from getting worse. Since they tend to worsen over time, taking action as soon as you notice a bunion and making the necessary changes to prioritize your foot health is imperative. (3)
1.) Adjust your shoes -- If you aren’t already wearing roomy, comfortable shoes, this change is necessary for halting any further inflammation and bunion growth. Even if you are wearing appropriate footwear, over-the-counter nonmedicated bunion pads can be inserted into shoes to act as a cushion between your bunion and shoe reducing painful irritation. These cushions can be found in almost all pharmacies, large grocery stores, and Amazon.
2.) Medications -- For people who are always on their feet, sometimes the pain of a bunion can be enough to affect everyday activities. A range of pain medications can help to ease the discomfort of bunions whether you opt for over-the-counter options like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, these can reduce inflammation. Cortisone injections are also an option that you can discuss with your doctor for pain management.
3.) Ice -- Similarly to over-the-counter pain medication, ice is a great option for helping to reduce inflammation and swelling. After a long day on your feet, it can be extremely relieving to rest and ice the affected area.
4.) Surgery -- Sometimes conservative treatment options aren’t enough if the bunion has progressed for too long. In these cases, your doctor may suggest one of the many surgical procedures for your bunion. They range in approach from removing the swollen tissue to realigning the bones in your foot. Recovery time varies based on individual cases and the type of surgical procedure performed. Ask your doctor if bunion surgery is right for you.
Bunions are painful and disruptive in anyone’s life, especially if you’re always on your feet. Whether you’re trying to get ahead of bunion development or looking for ways to ease the pain at home, you have the power to start taking care of your feet!