Usually affecting the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint, bunions form as visible, bony lumps at the joint of the big toe. As the joint gradually becomes unstable, it moves into an abnormal location and causes the big toe to point towards the other toes. This results in a deformity occurring in the joint, which may cause pain, pressure and swelling.
Although bunions can be treated, they can’t always be eradicated completely. Due to this, many people are keen to avoid this type of deformity and ask, how to prevent bunions? Whilst there are some measures which can be taken to reduce the likelihood of a bunion forming, it may not be possible to prevent bunions in all cases. As the causes of bunions are still not fully understood, preventative measures may only be effective for some people.
Bunions tend to develop gradually and symptoms may worsen over time. When individuals have a bunion, they may experience the following symptoms:
A lump protruding on the side of the foot, at the site of the MTP joint, is, perhaps, the most common symptom of a bunion. In many cases, physicians can diagnose a bunion based on this alone, although patients usually experience other symptoms as well. Although this lump can grow to a significant size, it may start off fairly small and increase in size over a matter of months or years.
As the lump continues to grow, the changes to the joint cause the big toe to point outwards. Rather than lying straight, the big toe will begin to lean towards the other toes due to a deformity in the joint. Depending on the severity of the deformity, other changes to the shape of the foot may also occur.
Bunions can be particularly painful, which is why people often want to prevent them from occurring. As the protruding lump tends to rub against footwear, the individual can suffer abrasions on the skin and blisters or calluses, which may be painful. In addition to this, standing or walking on the foot may be painful due to the deformity in the joint. As a result, individuals may have difficulty walking when they have a fully developed bunion.
Furthermore, damage to the MTP joint can increase the risk of the individual developing arthritis in the affected area. If this happens, the patient may experience increased pain and find it difficult to obtain relief from the discomfort, even when they are not walking or standing on the affected foot.
In order to successfully prevent bunions from forming, it’s necessary to know what causes them. In fact, there are numerous factors which can cause bunions, such as:
As the exact cause of bunions is still unknown, experts are unable to pinpoint why certain individuals develop the bone deformity. It seems, however, that genetics can play a role in the formation of bunions. Studies have shown that individuals are more likely to develop a bunion if someone in their immediate biological family suffers from the deformity, highlighting a possible genetic link.
In addition to this, unusual or abnormal foot function is believed to increase the likelihood of bunions forming. If individuals over or underpronate, for example, this can lead to foot problems. Overpronation, in particular, has been linked to the formation of bunions.
Although this may be caused by the patient distributing their weight unevenly when they walk, it may also be caused by other factors. If an individual has another condition which affects their ability to walk or their leg length, it may lead to abnormal foot function. Whilst their existing health condition may not be a direct cause of bunions, their symptoms could lead to the formation of a bunion.
If an individual is born with an abnormality in the MTP joint, this could also increase their risk of developing a bunion in later life. Similarly, if an injury causes trauma to the MTP joint, a bunion may be more likely to form due to destabilization of the joint.
Although bunions can be treated, some forms of treatments are aimed at managing the symptoms of the condition, rather than the bunion itself. For example, patients may be advised to do the following:
If the patient is still experiencing pain, despite these measures, additional treatment may be appropriate. Physicians may recommend that the patient receive an injection of cortisone into the affected area, for example. This can reduce inflammation and minimize the pain and discomfort caused by the bunion. Alternatively, a bunionectomy may be performed by surgeons. Designed to remove the bunion and correct the bone structure, this may relieve the patient’s symptoms completely.
Wearing appropriate footwear from an early age may help to prevent the formation of bunions, but this cannot always be guaranteed. Similarly, gently exercising the MTP joint can strengthen it and may prevent it from becoming unstable in the future.
As bunions can be caused by factors outside of our control, it may not always be possible to prevent them from occurring. By taking action when a bunion first develops, however, individuals can prevent the deformity from worsening and may be able to avoid many of the symptoms associated with bunions.
Using custom orthotics and wearing a bunion splint can help to keep the MTP joint in the appropriate place, for example, and this should prevent a bunion from worsening. Similarly, wearing well-fitting footwear can play a big role in the prevention of bunions. Whilst individuals may not always be able to stop a bunion forming at the MTP joint, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of a bunion developing and preventing the condition from worsening.