Bunions are more common in women than in men – it is estimated that up to half of all women have bunions to some extent. I happen to have one on each foot. You can also get little bunions on your little toes. I have them too.
What are they?
Bunions are bony lumps at the base of your big toe where it meets the long bones that make up your foot. They are normal bone that has got pushed outwards. The medical term for bunions is hallux (toe) valgus (bent out).
What causes them?
They are probably caused by biomechanical stresses put on the toe that skew the alignment of the joint. They are made worse by wearing shoes that don't fit, high heels (because they scrunch up your toes), arthritis and some toe injuries. Some feet are just more susceptible than others – bunions run in families.
What problems do bunions cause?
They usually get bigger and become painful, putting pressure on the skin that covers them making it red and sore. Bunions can push the other toes together (away from the middle) and make them ride up over each other. The bunion typically pushes the second long bone in the foot away – splaying the foot out.
How can I treat them?
You should try to wear wide shoes without heels – try ones with Velcro fastenings or laces (which makes surgery sound quite attractive). Avoid shoes with pointed tips. You can try cushioning the bunion with a soft pad from the chemist. You can also try or insoles to take the pressure off the bunion, and some people find night splints that try to hold and re-align the big toe can help. You may need to take painkillers.
Surgery may seem a drastic option, but eight out of 10 people who have surgery for bunions say their symptoms have improved, according to Best Health website. Bunions tend to get bigger if untreated – only a quarter will improve on their own. There are many different operations for bunions but they are all painful afterwards. The surgical removal of a bunion is not a trivial operation.
When should I see my doctor?
If your bunion hurts a lot, if it is distorting your other toes or if you are struggling to fit into any shoes (even ugly ones) you should see your doctor.
Surgeons prefer to operate for pain rather than cosmetic reasons because it takes time to recover from the surgery – many people say it is very painful and it can take six to eight weeks before you can wear shoes again. Surgery may also cause stiffness in your foot and loss of sensation in your toe if any nerves are damaged.