Our toes help maintain balance and bear body weight. It is important to keep them healthy and in alignment. But the alignment is thrown off when a bunion forms – which also causes chronic pain and has an impact on daily functioning.
A bunion (hallux valgus) is a deformity of the bone in the big toe, which progressively grows in size with increasing pain and discomfort. A bunionette can form in the same fashion in the little toe.
One of the most common foot deformities, bunions affect about 25 to 30 percent of all adults. Women and older adults are most affected.
What Is a Bunion?
A bunion is a result of a misalignment of the first metatarsal, which is the long bone that is attached to the base of the big toe. (Each of our five toes has an attached metatarsal bone inside the foot.)
This displacement of the bone causes pressure and enlargement of the metatarsal, forming the characteristic outer bump of a bunion at the joint.
Bunions form slowly over time. They can develop different symptoms, shapes, and sizes. They can be painless and treatable, or they may become excruciatingly painful and progress to severe levels, requiring surgery.
How Do Bunions Form?
When the big toe pushes up against the next toe, the metatarsal bone is pushed outward awkwardly. The base of the big toe can enlarge and protrude as a result of the altered motion.
The metatarsophalangeal joint supports the bulk of body weight while walking or standing, and it, therefore, experiences immense wear and tear over a lifespan. This stress and pressure can cause the big toe to move abnormally and misalign at its base.
This pressure eventually forms a bunion. As the bunion progresses, the big toe angles toward the second toe, which creates irritation and inflammation in both toes.
A bunion progressively develops and can become more severe over time. The first metatarsal will keep shifting outward, causing symptoms to increase in severity. The joint becomes unstable, the ligaments are unable to hold the first metatarsal in place, and it drifts outward and away from the second metatarsal.
What Causes Bunions?
The most common causes of bunions are:
- Tight, ill-fitting shoes
- Foot stress and pressure
- Foot injury
- Genetic factors
Excessively high heels push the toes and foot bones into unnatural positions, tighten the tendons and ligaments in the calf and foot, and alter the body’s balance. The bunion bump then rubs against the ground and the insides of shoes, stimulating the bone continuously. The bone responds by growing extra spurs and exacerbating the protrusion.
That is one reason why women get bunions more often than men because their shoes tend to be tighter and narrower, thereby forcing the toes against each other.
Are All Bunions the Same?
Mild cases of bunions may not show any visual or physical symptoms. In intermediate and severe cases, along with the bony prominence is also an angular deformity where the first metatarsal shifts and increases the normal angle.
The severity of the bunion often depends on how long treatment has been delayed, the type of shoes the person has been wearing, and the person’s activity levels. Progression differs with different people, but bunions usually develop equally on both feet.
Symptoms of Bunions
Bunions can be identified simply and visually by their most common symptoms:
- A hard, bony bulge at the base of the big toe on the outer edge of the foot
- The joint is red, swollen, and painful
- The ball of the foot may be red, swollen, and painful
- Calluses, blisters, and hardened skin
- Limited and painful movement in the big toe
- The area feels tender to the touch
- The area is shiny and feels warm to the touch
- Pain in the calf
Over time, the bone becomes bruised and inflamed, forming painful cysts. Severe bunions may cause premature arthritis and deep pain in the affected joints.
Can Bunions Be Removed?
A timely diagnosis and conservative treatment may slow the progression of a bunion and avoid chronic, progressive pain and joint damage. It may also eliminate the need for surgery.
However, corrective surgery is the only surefire way to stop the progress of a bunion.
Orthopedic Clinic in Watertown
The human foot is a complex mechanism. Bunions develop when the balance of force exerted on foot tendons and joints changes, causing deformation in the foot structures and imbalance in the joint.
If you or a loved one suffers from bunions, or are concerned about your risk, call the orthopedic experts at North Country Orthopaedic Group at (315) 782-1650. You can also go online to request an appointment for a consultation. Our caring team knows how to help you feel better so you can get back to the active lifestyle you enjoy.