You probably know someone who has a bunion - a bony protrusion, usually of the joint at the base of the big toe - or you may even have one yourself. These bumps are often painful and can seriously disrupt a person's quality of life, but few people know what causes them, how to actually treat them, or who is most at risk. For the curious, below are five fascinating facts about bunions.
A bunion, called hallux valgus by doctors, is a bony protrusion in the foot. This protrusion is caused when a toe, typically the big toe, moves toward the second toe. Over time, this pushes the joint out of place. While movement patterns combined with a patient's foot shape or type make this issue worse over time, doctors disagree over what the root cause is.
According to the Mayo Clinic, certain foot types and genetic predispositions may cause these joint abnormalities to form. Some experts believe that tight shoes, standing all day, and demanding jobs like construction may cause this foot issue. Other experts believe that standing all day or wearing tight shoes simply will exacerbate an existing bunion, but not cause a new one to form. It is possible that, as more research is conducted, physicians will discover the exact cause or causes of this foot issue.
Generally speaking, women have a higher incidence of this foot issue than men. One study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina found that women were more prone to bunion formation, and that African American study subjects were also more likely to suffer from this condition. However, research has not yet been able to determine what factors make this foot issue more common in certain populations.
Some experts believe that women are at higher risk because many women wear tight or high heeled shoes, but research has not yet conclusively determined whether this is what causes more women to develop this issue over time. The researchers who conducted the above study noted that they hoped further research would look into study subjects' footwear and occupations as a way to get closer to finding the causes of bunion problems.
A surgery, called a bunionectomy, is the only true way to remove this foot issue entirely. However, these surgeries are painful, expensive, and can be significantly disruptive to everyday life, and most doctors will only perform the surgery if you have tried more conservative methods and found no relief from your symptoms.
Lois Fink, a woman who has undergone two separate bunion surgeries, had to take two weeks off work in order to recuperate after her first foot surgery, and it was six weeks until she could wear regular shoes again.
If this issue becomes severe to the point that it interferes with everyday life, it will require surgery, but the good news is that more conservative treatments often work. These treatments include taping or splinting, applying ice regularly to reduce swelling, and taking pain medication if necessary. In addition, wearing thick cushioning work boots and walking shoes designed specifically for those with bunion problems may help reduce symptoms.
Since this issue can worsen and become more painful over time, it is important to pay attention to it and treat it early on. Some experts explain that, by being vigilant about treating and managing a bunion, you may even be able to save yourself the time, pain, and expense of surgery.
In people for whom this issue is so severe it requires surgery, it's understandable to worry about a bunion returning after surgery. These protrusions usually will not return after a surgery, although those with very unusual foot types may eventually find that their bunion recurs. Some surgeries simply involve shaving down the bone, while others require a cut and screw repair. In either case, recurrence of the bunion is not likely. Since it is a possibility, it's recommended that patients talk to their doctors about reducing their risk of the issue returning.
According to Andrew Schneider, a foot health expert, bunion formation is more common in the Western world. It is estimated that up to 30% of people in Western countries have had to deal with a bunion issue at some point in their lives. Interestingly enough, these foot issues rarely occur in countries where shoes are not often worn. This may support the theory that tight shoes or high heeled shoes contribute to bunion formation, even if they are not the only cause.
In conclusion, this foot issue, while not always painful, can be very disruptive to the people who have them. While surgery is the only way to truly remove a bunion, understanding risk factors and working to conservatively treat any existing foot issues you have may help to minimize the effect this issue has on your life.
Author bio: Amanda Wilks is a writer, reviewer, and editor. She is passionate about healthy sustainable living and motivational advice. To see more of her work, go to Twitter @Amanda_Wilks01.