Bunions are bumps that form on the outer edge of the big toe when the bone or tissue of the toe joint moves out of place. If you have a bunion, the spot is likely red, swollen and may hurt like crazy. About 23 percent of people between 18 and 65 have bunions, 35 percent of people older than 65 have them, and women are more likely than men to have them, according to a study published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research.
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, bunions can form at any stage in life, and several factors influence their growth, including:
* Genetics - People with flat feet, low arches, arthritis or inflammatory joint disease - all ailments that tend to run in families - are more prone to developing bunions.
* Footwear - Shoes that are too tight or that squeeze the toes together (like those stylish pointy-toe shoes you love) can aggravate a bunion-prone foot. In fact many of the trendiest footwear fashions are harbingers of bunions to come - so you can't possibly be too cool to develop a bunion.
* Injuries - Any injury that causes damage to the big toe joint could inspire the formation of a bunion.
If your bunion is just beginning to form, you may be able to inhibit its growth with a few lifestyle changes. Avoid wearing heels higher than 2 inches, and purge your shoe wardrobe of all styles that have tight toe-boxes. Using a bunion pad inside your shoes can also provide some protection and slow down the bunion growth.
But if your bunions are getting the best of you - and interfering with your mobility - it's time to see a podiatrist. Podiatrists are uniquely qualified to treat ailments of the feet and lower extremities, including bunions. Your podiatrist will be able to diagnose your bunions and he or she may recommend treatment options that range from:
* Using padding and taping to minimize pain and keep your toes in a normal position, which will reduce stress and pain.
* Prescribing anti-inflammatory medications or cortisone injections to ease acute pain and inflammation.
* Physical therapy, including ultrasound therapy.
* Orthotics or shoe inserts to control foot function and prevent bunions from getting worse.
* Surgery if your bunion problems are extreme.
Every year, bunions bring thousands of Americans into podiatrist offices around the country. A few simple lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of developing bunions, and treatment for existing bunions can help ensure they don't interfere with your mobility and enjoyment of life.