Bunions are misaligned big toe joints that can become swollen and tender, causing the first joint of the big toe to slant outward, and the second joint to angle toward the other toes. Bunions tend to be hereditary, but can be aggravated by shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot and toe. Surgery by a podiatric physician is frequently recommended to correct the problem.
More than half the women in America have bunions, a common deformity often blamed on wearing tight, narrow shoes. Bunions cause the base of your big toe (Metatarsophalangeal Joint) to enlarge and protrude. The skin over it may be red and tender. Wearing any type of shoe may be painful. This joint flexes with every step you take. The bigger your bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Bursitis may set in. Your big toe may angle toward your second toe, or even move all the way under it. 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. If your bunion gets too severe, it may be difficult to walk. Your pain may become chronic and you may develop arthritis.
Most bunions can be treated without surgery by wearing protective pads to cushion the painful area, and of course, avoiding ill-fitting shoes in the first place.
Bunion surgery, or bunionectomy, realigns the bone, ligaments, tendons and nerves so your big toe can be brought back to its correct position. Many bunion surgeries are performed on a same-day basis (no hospital stay) using an ankle-block anesthesia. A long recovery is common and may include persistent swelling and stiffness.
Because bunions develop slowly, taking care of your feet during childhood and early adulthood can pay off later in life. Keep track of the shape of your feet as they develop over time, especially if foot problems run in your family.
Exercising your feet can strengthen them. Learn to pick up small objects with your toes. Wear shoes that fit properly and that do not cramp or pinch your toes. Women should avoid shoes with high heels or pointed toes.