By Stephanie C. Wu, DPM, MSc
There are many misconceptions about who gets bunions and why they develop.
The truth is that bunions aren’t just for the elderly, or women who wear very high heels on a daily basis. Women and men of all ages are susceptible to bunions – the odds of developing a bunion have as much to do with how an individual’s feet develop as with their choice of footwear (although that does play a role; more on that in a moment).
First, let’s clarify: what exactly is a bunion, and how did it get there? A bunion is when your big toe points towards the second toe and there is a bump at the base of your big toe (see picture).
This bump forms because the bone at the big toe joint has moved out of place, forcing the big toe to turn in towards the second toe. This bump can become very painful, particularly in people who wear narrow or pointy toed shoes that squeeze the toes close together (hence the high prevalence of bunions in women). In extreme cases, the bunion can make walking or even wearing shoes almost unbearable.
Now that you have an idea of what to call that bump on the base of your big toe, what should you do next?
Have your feet examined by a doctor, sooner rather than later. Podiatric physicians are specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of foot and ankle ailments, including bunions. A bunion can usually be diagnosed by a doctor when a foot x-ray shows changes in the bones of the foot.
When identified early, bunions can respond to more conservative forms of treatment, such as foot pads, orthotics, and wearing wider-toed shoes. However, as the bunion gets worse and the deformity becomes more severe, a procedure called a bunionectomy may be indicated.
There are numerous surgical procedures available to treat bunions; some will have you back on your feet and walking right away, and others will require that your foot be in a cast. Your doctor will discuss the procedure that is best for you, based on the severity of the bunion.
Having a bunion removed may sideline you temporarily, but the sooner you address the problem, the sooner you will find relief.
Stephanie C. Wu, DPM, MSc, practices podiatric medicine at the Scholl Foot & Ankle Center (847-473-4357) and serves as director of CLEAR (the Center for Lower Extremity Ambulatory Research) and associate professor of Surgery at Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine.