What is a bunion?

A bunion is a bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of the big toe. The big toe joint gets enlarged and the big toe points toward the other toes. The medical term for the deformity where the big toe angles toward the other toes is hallux valgus.

People with weak or flat feet and women who wear high heels a lot are more likely to develop bunions.

What is the cause?

Bunions can result from wearing shoes that don't fit properly or from wearing high-heeled shoes with narrow, pointed toes. When a shoe rubs against the toe joint it irritates the area and makes it swollen, red, and painful. A tough, calloused covering grows over the site.

The tendency to have bunions may be inherited.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include:

  • A bony bump at the base of the big toe
  • Swelling, redness, and soreness of the big toe joint
  • Thickening of the skin at the base of the big toe

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your foot. You may have X-rays of the joint.

How is it treated?

Surgery is usually not needed. You can usually relieve pressure on the big toe if you:

  • Wear roomy, comfortable shoes.
  • Wear a corrective device that pushes the big toe back into the right position and holds it in place.
  • Place a pad on the bunion.
  • Custom-made arch supports called orthotics may help reduce bunion pain.

If the bunion gets worse and causes too much discomfort, your healthcare provider may suggest surgery (called bunionectomy) to:

  • Straighten the toe by taking out part of the bone.
  • Permanently join the bones of the affected joint.

How long will the effects last?

A bunion is a permanent problem. You'll continue to have it unless you have surgery to remove it. Recovery from bunion surgery may take 2 months or more.

How can I take care of myself?

If you have swelling, redness, or pain in the big toe joint:

  • Keep pressure off the affected toe.
  • Keep your foot up on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed by your healthcare provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.

Ask your provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent bunions?

You can help prevent bunions from developing by wearing comfortable shoes that fit well. Be sure your shoes don't cramp or irritate your toes. This is especially important if your family has a history of weak or flat feet.

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Published by RelayHealth.
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