This might sound a bit weird, but hear me out.
Recently, I was on vacation, and while at the beach, I happened to notice the big toe of the man relaxing in the beach chair next to mine.
I know, why was I checking out this guy’s toe instead of catching some Zs?
The reason it caught my attention was because it was abnormally bent toward his other toes, creating a bump on the inner side of his foot.
A quick glance revealed the same “defect” on the other foot.
Turns out that a lot of people I saw at the beach had this toe imperfection. And I made a mental note to speak to my doctor friend about it. He told me those bumps are bunions and that they’re pretty common and suggested some noninvasive tips for managing the issue.
But let’s start with some facts and figures.
What Are Bunions?
The medical term for the bump is hallux valgus, but it is mostly referred to as a bunion. A bunion is basically a misalignment of the joint in the big toe.
A bunion is one of the most common chronic foot complaints for foot and ankle specialists. The incidence of bunions increases with age, with reports estimating it affects one percent of all age groups, 23% of adults between 18 and 65, and as many as 35% of those over 65. Women are more likely to get them than men.
What Causes Bunions?
The scientific consensus is that bunions are inherited. Some conditions that could lead to bunion formation are flat feet, extremely flexible ligaments, and atypical bone structure.
Other causes of bunions include too much pressure on the feet. So, it can be viewed as an occupational hazard in jobs that require standing over long periods (teachers, nurses, ballet dancers, etc.)
Once formed, bunions can be aggravated by tight (or pointy-toed) shoes that cause your toes to crowd together. And high-heeled shoes that put pressure on your big toe.
A bunion can be painful or painless. But if not managed properly, it can lead to complications like bursitis (inflammation of the sacs between joints), ingrown toenails, corns, calluses, and even foot deformities.
Also, because people tend to shift the weight off the painful area, other areas like the ball of the foot begin to bear the brunt.
However, as my friend noted, there are simple ways to fix this problem. Or at least get relief from the pain.
How to Treat Bunions
The first step is to relieve the pressure by wearing the right footwear. Shoes should have a wide, flexible sole to support the foot and enough room to accommodate the toes and the bunion. Flat sandals are a great choice. High heels are not.
You can also protect the painful area with a gel-filled pad. Warm soaks, ice packs, gentle massages, and natural painkillers like camphor and menthol can help ease the pain as well.
Wearing a bunion splint at night while sleeping will keep the toe aligned and help straighten it over time.
Of course, these corrective measures might take longer than surgery (which usually takes six to eight weeks to heal) but they come with their own advantages. For one, you won’t have to worry about strangers staring at your toes the next time you’re at the beach!
Nix, S., et al., “Prevalence of hallux valgus in the general population: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, 2010; 3:21; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2955707/, last accessed July 10, 2017.
Wülker, N. and Mittag, F., “The Treatment of Hallux Valgus,” Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 2012; 109(49):857-868; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3528062/, last accessed July 10, 2017.
“What to do about bunions,” Harvard Health Publications, last updated September 2, 2015; http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/what-to-do-about-bunions, last accessed July 10, 2017.