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A bunion is a painful bump on the side of the foot at the base of the big toe. This is where the joint of the big toe, called the metatarsophalangeal joint, meets the foot. Over time, poor conditions can cause this joint to build into a sore, bony protrusion. Calluses or corns can form on it, adding to the discomfort, and the surrounding tissue may be red and swollen.
When this protrusion develops, it can cause the big toe to grow inward towards the second toe and — in extreme cases — can even force it beneath the second toe. This can push the remaining toes out of place and cause further discomfort. In extreme cases, bunions can cause disfigurement, correctable only by surgery. Though this is outpatient surgery in most cases, recovery can be lengthy.
The most common cause of bunions is applying unnatural pressures to the foot over a period of years by wearing shoes that are too tight. As a result, women who wear pointed dress shoes like high-heels are more prone to this condition. A hereditary factor is also present in the sense that the natural shape of the foot can be an added stressor. Other people likely to develop bunions are those who spend a lot of time on their feet, including athletes, mail delivery people, dancers, and so on.
Advanced bunions can lead to bursitis, an inflammation of the watery sac or bursa that protects the joint. Arthritis can also develop as the big toe becomes inflexible. These conditions make simple walking very painful, as the big toe’s joint must bend with every step taken.
In most cases, this condition is treated conservatively and allowed heal on its own by switching to roomier shoes with a wide box toe and flat soles. Some people might need to pad the area or wear shoe inserts so that they can walk more comfortably. Surgery is generally only recommended in cases in which the growth has been allowed to progress into a more serious condition. A surgeon is then required to realign the toe’s bones, tendons and ligaments to repair the damage.
Teenagers with a hereditary predisposition or foot injuries can get bunions even at this early age. Generally, changing to better-fitting shoes that are more comfortable can heal them, and they will continue to worsen if the conditions that created them do not change. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the best way to prevent this condition is to avoid narrow, pointed shoes, shoes that are too tight, and heels that exceed 2.25 inches (5.7 cm) in height.
Though this article provides general information, it is not medical advice and should not be substituted for such. If you are experiencing a painful orthopedic condition, see a qualified medical professional for a professional diagnosis and treatment.