If the joint that connects your big toe to your foot has a swollen, sore bump, you may have a bunion. More than one-third of women in America have bunions, a common deformity often blamed on wearing tight, narrow shoes and high heels. Bunions may occur in families, but many are from wearing tight shoes, and nine out of 10 bunions happen to women. Too-tight shoes can also cause other disabling foot problems such as corns, calluses and hammer toes.
With a bunion, the base of your big toe (metatarsophalangeal joint) gets larger and sticks out. The skin over it may be red and tender, and wearing any type of shoe may be painful. This joint flexes with every step you take, so the bigger your bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Bursitis (painful swelling) may set in. Your big toe may angle toward your second toe or move all the way under it.
In addition, the skin on the bottom of your foot may become thicker and painful. Pressure from your big toe may force your second toe out of alignment, sometimes overlapping your third toe. An advanced bunion may make your foot look deformed. If your bunion gets too severe, it may be difficult to walk. Your pain may become chronic and you may develop arthritis.
Most bunions are treatable without surgery. Prevention is always best. To minimize your chances of developing a bunion, never force your foot into a tight shoe that doesn’t fit. Choose shoes that conform to the shape of your feet. Go for shoes with wide insteps, broad toes and soft soles. Avoid shoes that are short, tight or sharply pointed, and those with heels higher than 2 1/4 inches.
If you already have a bunion, wear shoes that are roomy enough to not put pressure on it. This should relieve most of your pain. You may want to have your shoes stretched out professionally. You may also try protective pads to cushion the painful area.
If your bunion has progressed to the point where you have difficulty walking or experience pain despite accommodative shoes, you may need surgery. Bunion surgery realigns bone, ligaments, tendons and nerves so your big toe can be brought back to it’s correct position. Orthopedic surgeons have several techniques to ease your pain. Many bunion surgeries are done on a same-day basis (no hospital stay) using an ankle-block anesthesia. Recovery usually occurs over a three- to six-month period and may include persistent swelling and stiffness.