What is a Bunion?

woman with a bunionA bunion is a bony lump that forms on the specific joint where the foot and the big toe meet. This is also referred to as the MTP joint or metatarsophalangeal joint. Bunions can appear on either MTP joint, but rarely appear on both at the same time. Most people who have a bunion are not aware of it until it has grown to a substantial size.

It may take many months or even years for a bunion to develop. Once it has become large, it distorts the joint and sticks out. This causes the big toe itself to turn inward.

What Causes Bunions?

Several different conditions can contribute to development of bunions. One of the most common is rheumatoid arthritis. Illnesses that lead to joint irritation and swelling make bunions more likely.

Rarely, bunions may happen as a result of mechanical stress on the joint. Tight, ill-fitting shoes can cause bunions over a long period of time. Women who wear high heels may be at risk.

The shape of a person’s foot can make them more likely to develop bunions. Likewise, people with a family history of bunions are more prone to them than the average person.

Symptoms of Bunions

The characteristic symptom of a bunion is the bulging lump that appears on the MTP joint. It is usually red or swollen and may cause significant pain to the sufferer. The bunion interferes with the operation of the joint, making it difficult to move the toes – especially the big toe.

A related, but distinction condition is known as the bunionette. This is a smaller bunion that appears on the joint where the foot and the little toe meet. It may also be referred to as a tailor’s bunion.

Treatment Options for Bunions

Bunions are very easy to diagnose – your doctor may be able to tell you have one simply by looking at your foot. However, an x-ray can establish the severity of the joint damage. Data from an x-ray may also tell you how the condition developed, helping you prevent recurrence.

Several complications, including bursitis and metatarsalgia, are possible with bunions. Once you suspect a problem, it’s important to seek treatment right away. Even once treatment succeeds, you should follow up with your doctor to monitor the long-term health of your feet.

Bunion treatment options include:

Change Footwear

Sometimes, all you may need to do to help your body recover from a bunion is change your shoes. Shoes should provide plenty of room for your toes. To reduce likelihood of recurrence, choose shoes with less than two inches in the heel. Avoid shoes with pointed toes.

Apply Ice

Wrap a bag of ice or frozen vegetables in a towel and apply it to the bunion for no more than 20 minutes at a time to achieve temporary relief from bunion pain. Talk to your doctor if you have nerve damage or circulation problems that could be made worse by cryotherapy.

Wear Padding

Cushioning the area around the bunion can reduce pain and swelling. It’s a good idea to work directly with your doctor to pick padding that’s the right size, thickness, and shape for your feet.

Use Medication

Common over the counter medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help you manage swelling and pain. If a bunion is caused by arthritis, your doctor may prescribe medication.

Undergo Surgery

Surgery is generally a last resort for bunions. Surgery can be used to straighten out the big toe.

For expert help with your condition, just contact Northeastern Foot & Ankle today.