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What Is a Bunion?

When the bone or tissue of the big toe joint moves out of place, it forces the toe to bend toward the others. Over time, this can cause an often painful lump of bone to develop at the joint at the base of the big toe, the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. This lump of bone is called a bunion, which name comes from the Latin word bunio, meaning “enlargement.” Because bunions form on a joint that carries a large amount of the body’s weight, they can become extremely painful without treatment. Even just wearing shoes can become difficult if the MTP joint becomes stiff and sore.

Bunions can also form along the outer side of the little toe. These bunions are called “bunionettes” or “tailor’s bunions.”

Wherever a bunion forms, the symptoms will be the same. You will notice the development of a firm bump on the outside edge of the foot, usually at the base of the big toe. At or near the joint where the bump formed, you will usually experience redness, swelling, or pain. The affected toe may have its motion restricted or made painful. Corns or other irritations can develop because of the overlap of toes.        

How Do You Get a Bunion?

Bunions form when the everyday forces exerted on your foot, its joints, and its tendons are thrown out of balance. This can cause the joint to become unstable, which over time can cause the deformity to grow. Generally, the balance of your foot is disrupted by years of abnormal motion that places pressure on the MTP joint. Such abnormal motion can be a symptom of faulty foot development, either because of your inherited foot type, your shoes, or other sources.

Because the faulty foot development can be inherited, bunions tend to run in families. If your parents suffered from bunions, you should keep an eye out on your own feet for symptoms; likewise, you should pay close attention to your children’s feet as well.

Bunions can also develop because of foot injuries, congenital deformities, neuromuscular disorders, flat feet, low arches, arthritis, and inflammatory joint disease. If your occupation places an unusual amount of stress upon your feet, such as ballet dancers generally experience, it can also lead to bunions. Another common factor in bunion development is footwear; shoes that are too tight or which squeeze together the toes can cause many foot problems, which could help explain why bunions are particularly common among women.