A bunion (or hallux valgus to give it its medical name), is a deformity of the big toe where - instead of pointing straight forwards - the big toe angles towards the second toe, causing a bony lump to form at the base of the big toe. This lump can rub on footwear and cause pain, swelling and redness around the area. At first the bony lump will be small but it can increase in size over time. There are things you can do to prevent the bunion from getting bigger and causing pain and difficulty walking.
Although it’s not exactly clear why people develop bunions, they’re a common condition and can occur in anyone. However, they’re more common in women, they can run in families, and may be more likely to develop if you already have a condition that affects your joints such as rheumatoid arthritis. There are definitely things that make them worse such as wearing high-heeled or pointy shoes, or any other footwear that is too tight around the toes. If the symptoms are severe, the only true cure for fixing the bony lump is with surgery. .
The commonest symptom is pain in the big toe, which can become swollen and inflamed, and cause it to be uncomfortable when you walk. Your foot may also widen so it can become difficult to find shoes wide enough to fit you, and you can develop arthritis in the big toe. In severe cases, the big toe can push the second toe out of place.
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The majority of symptoms from bunions can be managed with self-treatment. There are many options such as ensuring you have properly fitting shoes (giving your toes enough room) and over-the-counter aids such as bunion pads to cushion the area and shoe inserts to relieve pressure.
If the bunion is red, inflamed or painful then ice the area for around 20 minutes at regular intervals (don’t put ice directly onto the skin) and you can take over-the-counter pain relief medication. Always avoid wearing high heels or footwear that is too tight.
Book a routine appointment with your doctor or a podiatrist if you’ve tried using properly fitted shoes, pads, and shoe inserts, if the area looks red or inflamed or if you’re suffering severe pain.
It’s important not to leave it too long before seeing a doctor or podiatrist as it is better to have early treatment to stop bunions getting worse. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, your medical history and they will examine your foot. They may order an X-ray of your foot to see the severity of the bunion and this will be done with you standing up so that the alignment of the bones in your toes can be seen.
Your doctor may suggest further treatment at home or consider referring you to a podiatrist or surgeon.
You are fit for work if you have bunions. However if they’re severe you may need altered duties at work if you’re on your feet for the majority of the day. If you have an operation to fix the bunion then you may need around six weeks off work.
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