What are bunions, and what footwear should be worn to avoid them?

(Photo: Pixabay)
(Photo: Pixabay)

Regularly wearing tight, ill-fitting footwear can increase your risk of developing bunions, bony bumps that form on the side of the feet, at the base of the big toe. Bunions typically develop over time, and often occur when the toes are crowded together for a prolonged period, causing the big toe to be pushed against the others.

Bunions are also associated with the following risk factors:

  • High heels, particularly with pointy toes

  • Genetic predisposition, e.g. an inherited structural defect in the feet

  • Flat feet

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

“High heels force the toes into the front of the shoes, often crowding them. People who wear shoes that are too tight, too narrow or too pointed in front are also more susceptible to bunions. This is one reason why women are more likely to get bunions,” says Dr Kevin Koo, Consultant, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital.

Bunions are accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • Swelling, redness or soreness around the big toe joint

  • Persistent or intermittent pain in the affected region or in the ball of the foot

  • Corns and calluses

  • Difficulty walking

(Photo: Pexels)
(Photo: Pexels)

What is the treatment for a bunion?

You should consult a foot and ankle specialist if you have a bunion and experience persistent pain or difficulty in walking. The doctor will make a diagnosis after a physical examination and an X-ray, and prescribe treatment based on the severity of the condition and its cause.

To relieve the pain and discomfort caused by a bunion, you can do the following:

  • Apply ice and have painkillers.

  • Change to comfortable footwear: Ideally, there should be some space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe, and the shoes should not squeeze or press any part of your foot. If you must wear heels, opt for ones which are less than two inches high.

  • Use bunion pads and inserts.

  • Get splints and braces to hold the big toe straight. “The moment they are removed, the toe reverts back to its usual deviated position. They do not slow down the natural progression of bunions,” says Dr Koo.

Bunions are permanent growths and can only be removed with surgery. However, your doctor is likely to recommend surgery only if your bunion causes persistent pain and interferes with your daily activities. Mild to moderate bunions can be treated with minimally-invasive surgery while severe ones need traditional open surgery, explains Dr Koo.

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