Bunions (Hallux Valgus) - Symptoms & Causes

What are bunions?

A bunion is a bony bump on the joint of the big toe. It occurs when your big toe pushes against the adjacent toe, causing the joint to stick out. The medical term for this condition is hallux valgus.

Bunions are one of the most common foot problems. They develop over time and are more likely to occur in women than in men. The skin over the bunion may be sore and appear red in colour.

Aside from the big toe, bunions may also grow on the base of your pinky toe, which is known as tailor’s bunion or bunionette.

What are the symptoms of bunions?

Aside from the visible lump on the base of your toe, signs and symptoms of a bunion include the following:

  • Big toe leaning towards other toes
  • Redness, swelling, and pain or tenderness around your big toe joint
  • Calluses or corns around your big toe
  • Hard, thick skin on the sole of your foot
  • Persistent or intermittent foot pain
  • Restricted movement in the big toe

What causes bunions?

Bunions grow when some of the bones in the front part of your foot move out of place, causing your big toe to bend toward your second toe and the joint at the base of your big toe to jut out.

This condition runs in families where people inherit a foot shape or structure (e.g. flat feet, low arches, metatarsal head being too round) that is predisposed to developing bunions. Loose joints and tendons also contribute to the risk.

What are the risk factors for bunions?

Wearing shoes that are too tight, too small, or have narrow toe boxes can force your toes to crowd together and increase your risk of bunions. However, this is not an underlying cause.

Other factors that can contribute to the development of bunions include:

  • A joint disease (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), a neuromuscular condition (e.g. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease or polio), or a weak connective tissue
  • Prolonged standing and walking
  • Foot injuries

What are the complications of bunions?

If left untreated, bunions can cause several complications that involve inflammation, chronic pain and toe or foot deformity. Some of these complications are:

  • Bursitis. A condition that is characterised by the painful swelling of the little, fluid-filled sacs that act as cushion and reduce friction between the surfaces of the soft tissue and bone.
  • Hammertoe. A condition where your second, third or fourth toe is curled, because the middle joint of the affected toe is bent. Hammertoes can cause pain and pressure.
  • Metatarsalgia. A painful condition that involves swelling in the ball of your foot.
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