Hard, knobby bunions can complicate choosing attractive shoes. They can also make you too shy to bare your feet at the beach or park.
But if you’ve been blaming your bunions on your own bad habits — such as wearing high heels, or pointy toed shoes — you can relax (a little). Your bunions aren’t (entirely) your fault. They’re probably your parents’ fault. Or their parents. Or theirs.
That’s right: Research demonstrates that bunions — otherwise known by the even more mellifluous term “hallux valgus” — are almost always inherited. But before you let yourself off the hook entirely, if your bunions are really bad, your habits may indeed have made those inherited bunions worse.
Many patients who come to see us at Glendale Foot and Ankle Podiatry Center in Glendale, California, learn that having a close family relative with bunions increases their own risk. But If you’re genetically likely to get a bunion, you can take steps to prevent or minimize the painful foot deformity.
If you already have a bunion or two, Hermoz Ayvazian, DPM, FACFAS, QME, and our entire team, guide you through the lifestyle changes that help you manage your discomfort. Or, if your bunions are painful, we offer the most advanced treatments available.
Behind your bunions
The first stage of a bunion usually looks like a growth on the side of your foot, at the base of the big toe. As the bump enlarges over time, it may rub against the inside of your shoe, causing a painful sore to form over the bump.
However, what appears as a bump or growth outside your foot is actually the result of a bone deformity inside your foot. Bunions occur when the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint — which attaches the base of your big toe to your foot — shifts out of place.
This shift causes your big toe to bend in toward the other toes. That inward bend forces the joint to angle outward at the base. The bump you see is actually protruding bone.
The MTP joint bears most of your body weight. That’s why a bunion can be painful when you’re standing, walking, or running. Over time, the joint may become chronically stiff and sore, making it virtually impossible to wear shoes.
But still, why a bunion?
You don’t actually inherit the bunions from your great-grandmothers or great-great-grandfathers. You inherit a certain kind of foot structure that’s prone to developing bunions. The faulty foot structure leads to poor foot mechanics, which in turn causes increased pressure both on and within the foot.
Nevertheless, some people with bunions come from families that are completely bunion-free. If that’s true in your case, you might have a congenital foot deformity that increases your likelihood of developing a bunion. Or, you may have injured your foot in the past, traumatizing the MTP joint.
Having rheumatoid arthritis or other underlying conditions can also damage the MTP joint and can lead to bunions. People with certain neuromuscular disorders have a greater chance of having bunions, as do those who are flat-footed, have low arches, or are overweight.
Some women develop bunions during pregnancy. As their shifting hormones loosen their ligaments, their feet flatten out, and cause them to develop bunions.
If bunions run in your family, or if you think you’re at risk, take preventive steps to avoid developing one yourself or stop those you have from getting worse. Your footwear should conform to the shape of your foot without squeezing or constricting your toes or any other part of your foot.
You should also choose shoes that have a wide-toe box. Be sure there’s some space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Protect your bunion from the friction of your shoe by wearing a bunion pad. If all else fails, have your bunions removed at Glendale Foot and Ankle Podiatry.