How do I Know if I Have Bunions?

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Are you one of the thousands of people who have typed “how do I know if I have bunions?” into your web browser? Maybe you’re not currently experiencing them – perhaps just wondering “for a friend?” Well, whatever brought you to read this article, you’re in for a real treat.

The team at FitMyFoot interviewed podiatrist, Dr. Colby Berger, DPM, to get answers to the most common questions about bunions and what you can do about these pesky, sometimes painful, lumps. Here goes:

“What is a bunion?”

“A bunion, or hallux valgus, is a condition in which the first metatarsal deviates medially and the big toe deviates laterally, pushing against the second toe; this causes the appearance of a bump on the inside of the big toe joint.” Dr. Berger explained. It’s the most common foot problem in the U.S., affecting up to one third of adults at any given time.

“What does a bunion look like?
A bunion may look like a deformed bone on the side of the toe, but in reality, it’s not. As the big toe is forced inward, the bone behind the toe will protrude outwardly. Mineral deposits - bone-like ‘growths’ form in the hyperextended joint space in a process known as bone remodeling. Rather than being a deformed bone, it’s a maligned bone.

“Why are bunions painful?”

The pain caused by the bunion depends on the shape, size, and severity of the bunion - see figure one. In very mild cases, the bunion may be painless and barely noticeable. As the bunion progresses into a more severe condition, the pain increases and it can become impossible to ignore.

A bunion may be painful if you attempt to wear shoes that don’t fit, causing inflammation and friction. It may also be painful because the joint at the base of the big toe ends up carrying too much of your weight, causing swelling.

 

Figure 1 - Bunion Severity Guide   |      Source: The Bunion Institute https://www.bunioninstitute.com/what-is-a-bunion/

“How can I prevent getting a bunion?

The best way to prevent a bunion is to wear the correct footwear. Aim to wear shoes that are a little loose on your foot, have a wide toe box to prevent the toes being compressed, and arch support. Shoes should feel comfortable and supportive; high heels for example are a bad idea for bunions.

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As stated by Dr. Berger, “Bunions can be treated conservatively with shoe modifications, padding and orthotics. Typically, these modalities will not correct the bunion, but may prevent it from getting worse.”

“How are bunions treated?”

“If [the aforementioned] conservative treatment fails, surgical treatment can be performed. The surgical treatment will depend on the severity of the bunion and ranges from soft tissue rebalancing procedures to bone cuts and even bone fusions.” Dr. Berger explained.

“What causes bunions? Are bunions hereditary?”

“Bunions are usually caused by biomechanical and muscular imbalances and are largely genetic,” says Dr. Berger. Despite the common assumption that bunions are caused by ill-fitting shoes, it is often due to your inherited foot type or deformities present at birth. That being said, ill-fitting shoes contribute to the development of bunions.

“What other foot issues come from bunions?”

There are possible complications of bunions as explained by Dr. Berger, “[bunions] are also commonly associated with ligamentous laxity, hammertoe deformities, flat feet and rheumatoid arthritis.”

“Do bunions affect circulation in my foot?

According to a study published in 2018, bunions can sometimes damage nerves in the big toe, leading to numbness. If you are struggling with poor circulation in your feet, check out this article we wrote: Poor Circulation in Feet? Tips, Treatments, and Causes.

“Where is the most common place to get a bunion?”

The most common place to get a bunion is on the big toe. The other place you can get a bunion is on the outside base of the little toe. This is known as a tailor’s bunion; this occurs when the fifth metatarsal bone enlarges, or shifts outwards. However, these are less common. In a study published by the American College of Rheumatology, only four percent of people had a tailor’s bunion, whereas 39 percent had a bunion on the big toe.

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“Why do bunions get bigger? Can bunions spread?”

Bunions cannot spread to other areas as they are not infectious. However, when improper footwear is consistently worn, bunions can get bigger and more severe.

“How do I prevent a bunion from getting bigger?”

The best way to prevent it from getting bigger according to Dr. Berger is “shoe modifications, padding and orthotics.” Wear well-fitting shoes made from good quality materials, with arch support. Orthotics are custom insoles that have been measured according to your foot anatomy.

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Key takeaways

We hope you found this interview with Dr. Berger useful. Remember: if you are experiencing chronic foot pain or bunions, it’s vital that you take the steps (excuse the pun) towards happier feet. Often this is possible just by adjusting your footwear and foot care. Take care of your feet!

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