What Are Bunions? Causes & How To Get Rid Of Hallux Valgus

Ever wondered what a bunion (hallux valgus) is? Check out our latest blog for a comprehensive overview of bunions. From causes and treatments to preventative measures or pain relief.

What is Hallux Valgus (Bunion)?

The term bunion is commonly encountered but is often used incorrectly, so what is a bunion? A bunion (Hallux valgus) is a progressive deformity of the foot affecting the big toe. More specifically, it is a partial dislocation (subluxation) of the big toe joint1 through deviation of the big toe away from its intended position. In short, the big toe points towards the other toes on the same foot, forming a bony bulge on the side of the foot at the big toe joint. This lump might be small at first, but for some people, can become a substantial bulge on the side of the big toe joint.

Although, Hallux valgus is arguably a benign condition, bunions can be a cause for concern for a number of reasons, not least because they are considered progressive. Symptoms can range from a small bump and minor inconvenience to a large, bony protrusion associated with pain, rubbing and footwear struggles and even arthritis in the joint. In severe cases, the second toe can dislocate further, crossing over the big toe joint and resting on the top of it. Other possible symptoms include displacement or deformation of the other toes (e.g. toe or claw toe) and foot pain due to overloading or compensatory behaviours (e.g. altered gait)

What are the Causes of Bunion?

Understanding what causes bunions can be particularly useful, especially when considering treatment options. The general understanding is that some people are predisposed to the condition and certain factors encourage or advance the bunion formation.

Some of these causes or contributing factors can include:

  1. Constricting footwear (e.g. high heels, narrow shoes)
  2. Excessive pronation
  3. Anatomical variations, genetics or trauma
  4. Other foot conditions, some medical or neuromuscular conditions

How to Treat a Bunion?

When looking at how to treat bunions, a professional diagnosis is a logical first step. A professional diagnosis is helpful to make sure that what you’re dealing with is in fact a bunion and help you navigate your treatment options from there. Generally speaking there are three main treatment avenues:

  1. Watch and wait
  2. Conservative treatment
  3. Surgery

Given that bunions are arguably benign, some people do opt for a watch and wait approach. This involves living with the condition and doing your best to manage symptoms if and when they arise. This could include, buying shoes that fit your toes comfortably and avoiding high heels. This option isn’t for everyone, especially those looking to do something in an attempt to manage the underlying causes to delay progression as much as possible.

With this in mind, if waiting to see whether your symptoms will become worse (which they can for some people) isn’t acceptable, then conservative treatment might be the next choice before surgery. The specific treatments can vary between people but could include one or a combination of the following:

  1. Correction or improvement of foot function (e.g. with orthotics)1
  2. Wearing shoes that are the right fit for you and can accommodate your bunion
  3. Reducing pressure on the bunion with strategic placement of padding
  4. Pain relief medication as directed by your doctor
  5. Other strategies, under the guidance of your podiatrist or health professional

Unfortunately, once a bunion has formed it is considered permanent, making it difficult to get rid of hallux valgus without surgery. In saying that, surgery is typically regarded as a last resort, reserved for those cases that don’t respond as well as we’d like to conservative options. In this instance, your GP will be able to assist you with any referrals you need, should surgery be something they consider suitable for you. If your GP isn’t convinced surgery is necessary just yet, they may suggest you see a podiatrist to trial conservative treatment first.

How to Prevent Bunions?

If you’re concerned about bunions, then it’s natural to want to learn how to prevent bunions. Unfortunately, when it comes to treatment and prevention, there are no guarantees, especially if you’ve already noticed a bunion forming. Nevertheless, wearing shoes that are suitably sized (e.g. avoid high heels and pointy shoes) and have enough room in the toe box might be enough help to prevent hallux valgus, particularly if there aren’t any other contributing factors. Others might have luck with toe spacers or other over-the-counter bunion treatments. However, for those with predisposition, genetic or otherwise, preventing bunions can be very much an uphill battle and it may be impossible to prevent bunions completely. If you’re worried that you might develop bunions, talk to your podiatrist. They can offer treatment suggestions and support you through your decision-making process.

How Can We Help?

Bunions may not be life-threatening but that doesn’t mean they aren’t painful and difficult to live with for some people. Given that bunions can get worse and are largely permanent once established, it can be helpful to have a podiatrist in your corner to assist with early diagnosis and treatment.

If you’re concerned about your feet or want to know more about how to treat your bunion, contact us for an appointment. We can discuss your symptoms, provide a diagnosis and offer podiatry treatment for your bunions.

Always Consult a Trained Professional

Remember, your health and circumstances are unique. This information is general in nature and is not intended to replace individual professional advice or the opinion of your medical practitioner. We endeavour to keep only up to date information on this site; however, its accuracy is not guaranteed. Always seek the advice of a qualified health professional before making any decisions about your health.

References:

1 Brukner, P., & Khan, K. (2012). Brukner & Khan’s Clinical Sports Medicine (4th ed.). North Ryde, N.S.W: McGraw-Hill Australia.
2 Wülker N, Mittag F: The treatment of hallux valgus. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2012; 109(49): 857−68. DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2012.0857

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