The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

White Plains Podiatrists Discuss Five Facts About Bunions You Should Know

Posted by on Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Bunions are one of the most common foot issues our board-certified podiatrists and surgeons treat here at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine office in White Plains. It can be scary when patients first notice a big “bump” on their big toe—especially since there is a lot of misinformation out there about what bunions are, how they progress, and how they are treated. Here, we’ll delve into five facts about bunions so you can have a better idea of how bunions develop and treatment options.

How much do you know about bunions? White Plains podiatrists discuss five surprising facts.
How much do you know about bunions? White Plains podiatrists discuss five surprising facts. Image Source: Flickr user Esther Max.

1. The Etymology of the Word “Bunion”

Some say the word “bunion” comes from bunio, the Latin word for “turnip.” Other possible etymologies for the word “bunion” include boni (“bony,” Middle English); bubbone (“beehive,” Italian); buigne (“bump, knob, swelling,” Old French); bunga (“bulge,” Old Norse); bungio (“swelling, lump, bump,” Old Frankish); and bunge (“swelling, tuber,” German). For years, the original term “bunion” was widely used to describe any enlargement of the first metatarsophalangeal joint.

In 1870, German surgeon Carl Hueter gave bunions their scientific name: hallux valgus, the “hallux” being the big toe and “valgus” meaning a deformity characterized by the pulling away of the limb from its midline. Today, bunions represent the most common forefoot deformity, affecting an estimated 23-35 percent of the adult population.

2. Shoes Aren’t the Primary Cause of Bunions

While wearing tight, pointy heels can worsen bunion development, this factor alone does not cause the bunion to grow. After all, there is a genetic component to bunion development. As Harvard Health indicates, foot shape and structure are inherited. Low arches, flat feet, loose joints, lax tendons, tight calves, and arch instability has a tendency to run in families, and these conditions can all increase the risk of developing one or more bunions. While no “bunion gene” has been pinpointed, the largest-ever foot study of more than 6,000 feet found that 89% of people with bunions under age 60 inherited the condition. Overall, bunions were inherited by 39% of women and 38% of men.

3. Bunions are Frequently Misdiagnosed

Often in our clinical practice, we meet with patients who believe they have a bunion, when in fact, it is something else entirely. Osteoarthritis is the most common alternate diagnosis, but there are other possible reasons. Acute onset with extreme pain is often due to gout, a form of inflammatory arthritis. Hallux rigidus is routinely seen, in which an inflamed toe joint grows straight but has difficulty moving. With progressive hallux rigidus, an extra toe bone can develop, protruding outward and appearing similar to a bunion, though the mode of treatment is different. Capsulitis (joint inflammation), neuromas (overgrown nerves), and bursitis (fluid-filled sacs) are other causes of toe bumps and bunion misdiagnosis.

4. Non-operative Treatments Can Relieve Symptoms

Not all bunions are painful. In fact, some bunions have no bothersome symptoms and require no treatment at all.

Foot specialists recommend seeking bunion care when:

  • The pain starts to alter how you walk.
  • The pain interferes with everyday activities.
  • You find it difficult to find shoes that fit properly.
  • Your foot structure is changing, with overlapping toes.

Treatment can be as simple as wearing a roomier shoe, using toe spacers or a bunion pad, or getting fitted for custom orthotics to better support the foot’s natural structure. Mild to moderate pain can be managed with Capsaicin cream. For some cases of severe pain where soft tissue laxity is not indicated, a foot doctor in White Plains can inject cortisone to decrease pain related to inflammation. Ultrasound therapy and physical therapy are other popular approaches aimed at improving flexibility and range of motion.

5. Surgery is the Only Way to Truly Correct Improper Toe Alignment

Surgery is not recommended for cosmetic reasons alone, as any procedure includes risks of adverse complications. Fewer than 1% of surgeries result in long-term complications, but up to 10% of people who’ve had bunion surgery regret it. Thoroughly discussing your options with the right doctor offers the best chance for a satisfactory result. We do not take the decision to go into the operating room lightly for any patient.

If we do decide surgery is the best course of action, there are over 100 different types of bunion surgery. Surgical approaches may include removing a portion of bone, realigning soft tissue, reshaping the bone, fusing the joint, or inserting a joint implant. You’re looking at two months off your feet and up to six months before you’re able to get back to everything you did previously. For more information about bunion treatment options or to get an expert diagnosis, contact us today.

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.