If you don’t have bunions, read this anyway, just in case they’re in your future – three-quarters of those who get them are women, and weight-bearing activities such as running and walking can hasten their onset. If you have bunions – and you may or may not know it – read on for the latest information on treatment and prevention.

What is a bunion

What is a bunion? It’s a swelling of the big-toe joint – the first joint where the big toe originates out of the ball of the foot. It’s not a temporary swelling that goes down, but one that permanently changes your foot’s profile. Usually it’s found along the inner edge of the foot right at that joint. As the bunion grows, it can become very painful and sensitive to rubbing shoes.

Bunions develop from a biomechanical weakness in the bone structure of the foot; the instability of certain bones and ligaments causes the joints to move out of proper alignment. As the bunion rows, the big toe may move toward the second toe and cross over or under it.

The propensity toward bunions is hereditary. For one to develop, however, more than just an inherited predilection must be present. A lot of time spent standing, walking, or running on hard, flat surfaces contributes toward bringing them on. Flat feet are more prone toward getting bunions than arched feet, though the latter aren’t exempt. Wearing shoes, socks, and nylons that are too tight does not cause bunions, but often spurs them to grow faster.

With mild bunions, early diagnosis and fitting with an orthotic may, according to many podiatrists, delay or even prevent bunions’ further development – though others say that there is no compelling research to support this claim. Most podiatrists agree, however, that orthotics can help ease the pain of bunions.

In any case, not all patients can be helped by orthotics. To find out if an orthotic can help you, ask a certified podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon to give you a diagnostic test called an electrodynogram. It will give you an answer.

A few things that don’t work are wearing night splints and straps, and buying increasingly wider shoes to accommodate your bunion growth. Wider shoes may reduce the symptoms aggravated by shoe pressure, but wearing excessively wide shoes doesn’t give feet adequate support and will therefore allow the bunion to develop faster.

If you’re an athlete, bunions can be torture. Pain and discomfort can be alleviated with injections of anti-inflammatory agents, defamatory medication like Motrin and Advil, or even aspirin. Physical therapy can also be helpful but if all these methods fail and pain persists, corrective surgery may be necessary. A certified sports podiatrist who treats athletic patients may be more sensitive to your needs.

Recovery can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on your sports activities. A cyclist will take about four weeks, a swimmer two weeks, an elite runner two months. But you can cross-train during that time to maintain aerobic fitness and it’ll help keep your endorphin levels up so the pain of recovery is reduced.

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