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Understanding Bunions




23 Spring Street, Suite B 
Scarborough, Maine 04074 


O-207-774-0028   F-207-774-0063


There’s a fantastic phrase about being rubbed “the wrong way.” The origin likely stems from the fact that cats only like to be stroked from head to tail. With a bunion, however, there is no “right way” of being rubbed. Bunions are easily irritated by friction, but understanding this foot condition is your first step to doing something about it.

Foot Structure and Bunions

Five of the bones in each foot are known as your metatarsal bones and they run lengthwise to your toes. The bones in your toes are referred to as phalanges, and the joints where they meet the metatarsals are called metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joints.

The MTP joint for your big toe is where the problem develops. An uneven distribution of pressure caused by various factors leads to instability in the joint and supporting tendons. The resulting situation is that your big toe points inwards and the joint are molded outward into a hard knob that protrudes beyond your foot’s natural shape.

Smaller Bunions - Bunionettes

In addition to the traditional version, you can also develop a similar condition known as a bunionette, also known as a “tailor’s bunion.” The name may conjure up an image of a smaller bunion, which is true, but the main distinction is that a bunionette forms on the outside edge of your foot. This deformity happens at the MTP joint for your little toe, but is otherwise the same as its big brother on the inside edge.

Symptoms of Bunions

The most visible symptoms of a bunion are the bulging bump you see at the base of your big toe and the fact that the toe is bending in towards the other toes. There will also likely be pain, swelling, and redness at, or near, the first MTP joint. The condition can lead to restricted or painful movement for the affected toe. It is common to develop calluses or corns as a result of a bunion, particularly where your first and second toes overlap.

Risk Factors That Make Bunions More Likely

Increase risk of this condition may simply be a matter of genetics and inherited foot structure. Abnormal biomechanics from a problematic foot type can lead to the pressure necessary to create a bunion. Foot injuries, congenital deformities, and neuromuscular disorders are other potential root causes. The pain that accompanies arthritis can force someone to alter the way he or she walks, thereby making it more likely for that person to sustain a bunion.

Treating Bunions – Conservative and Surgical Methods

Your treatment options will vary in accordance with the severity of your condition. It is important to note that dealing with a bunion in its earlier stages may help to slow or stop its progression. Conservative treatment options include:

  • Splinting or padding and taping your foot into a natural position to alleviate pain and reduce stress on the bunion.
  • Applying ice to a bunion after time spent on your feet to relieve inflammation and soreness.
  • Using padded shoe inserts which can help reduce symptoms, prevent the condition from worsening, and distribute pressure more evenly to reduce irritation.
  • Changing footwear to comfortable, roomy models that offer ample space for your toes.

When conservative methods are insufficient, we may recommend surgery. This can entail removing swollen tissue, realigning your bones, or permanently joining the bones in the affected joint.

Bunion Prevention

When the deformity comes from an inherited foot structure, we may be able to help by prescribing custom orthotics that are designed expressly for your feet. Over-the-counter inserts will certainly not help, but the medical devices we create in our office are based on your gait and unique foot structure. Since ill-fitting footwear and shoes that have narrow toe boxes and high heels are potential triggers for a bunion, opt for models that offer plenty of room for your toes to wiggle freely and have heels less than 2” high.

Lighthouse Foot and Ankle Center is here for any bunion issues you may experience. If you live in the Scarborough area, or surrounding communities like Westbrook and Falmouth, contact our office for more information or to schedule an appointment. Give us a call at (207) 774-0028 or use our online form.