Bunions are lumps that develop on the joint at the base of the big toes. The medical name for bunions is hallux valgus, taken from the scientific name for a person’s big toe and the word for a deformity involving oblique displacement of part of a limb away from the midline.
Beyond the complex scientific name, bunions are actually the most common deformity of the forefoot. Being a progressive deformity, bunions can start off as a simple bump and develop into a painful disability. They are more common in women and people over 65 years of age and are thought to be a hereditary condition.
As the cause of bunions is unknown, prevention of this condition can be difficult. However, many factors are thought to contribute, including wearing high-heeled or ill-fitting shoes or footwear with pointed toes.
An underlying case of arthritis of the first metatarsophalangeal joint (big toe joint) is also believed to help the development of bunions. Reducing the time spent wearing these types of shoes is advised, along with not continually standing for long periods.
Instead, look for comfortable sandals, dress shoes, and any other footwear that doesn’t put additional stress on your feet. Avoiding unnecessary pressure on the first metatarsophalangeal joint can help get rid of discomfort and daily pain while you’re on your feet.
Untreated bunions can become extremely painful and inhibit a person’s mobility. Surgery is the only way to completely remove bunions and correct the position of the big toe.
There are a range of surgical options for treating bunions, but a doctor or podiatrist will need to diagnose the bunions and their severity. This will allow them to recommend the best procedure for treating the problem.
In less serious cases, the pain of bunions can be alleviated with a number of different methods.
- Avoid wearing high heels or tight, pointy shoes as these restrict the toes and can force the first metatarsophalangeal joint into an awkward and painful position.
- Stay away from shoes with limited room for toes or sandals and strappy shoes that wrap tightly around the toes.
- Use bunion pads to protect the affected area from excessive rubbing. Bunion pads are soft inserts for shoes and are often sold at drug stores.
- Choose shoes with wide toes that leave plenty of room for movement. Footwear designed with narrow toes, such as running or dress shoes, can place compressive force on the bunion. This will aggravate painful symptoms and worsen the condition.
- Consider purchasing shoes that are a ½ or full size larger than usual. This will allow more room for the toes and alleviate pressure, especially in narrow style higher heeled shoes.
- Maintain a healthy weight, as carrying extra weight can further exacerbate the pain of bunions.
- Apply an ice pack to the affected area for five-minute periods and administer pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Doing so can help with pain management.
- Shoes with rigid soles at the front or with rocker-bottom soles are often more comfortable than flexible soled shoes for people with bunions. They help to restrict movement and support the big toe joints.
Bunions can also be managed with less invasive home treatments. Exercising your feet by stretching, strengthening, and aligning the key muscle groups in your feet and legs can help with the pain and discomfort of bunions.
Another option is to use gel toe spreaders to stretch toes when you relax at the end of the day. While these actions won’t cure your bunions, they will certainly help to strengthen your feet and toes, alleviate pain, and help you to manage your condition more successfully.
Rae is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing (of course).