Your big toe is one of the most important—and yet underrated—parts of your body.
It’s responsible for balance and helps distribute body weight when standing or walking. The metatarsophalangeal joint—or MTP joint—is the joint right underneath the big toe, and it bears the entire weight of your body when you stand or do physical activity.
That’s why a bunion can be dangerous as well as uncomfortable, and sometimes painful. When this joint is out of place, the weight on your foot can place pressure on other parts of the foot and cause damage to other bones, ligaments, tendons, and joints.
If you have a bunion, you can do some bunion treatments at home to alleviate pain and try to help the toe stay aligned.
Let’s have a look at bunions and what we can do to treat them.
What is a Bunion?
This happens due to the misalignment of the toe joint—the metatarsophalangeal or MTP joint—which causes the toe to start to turn in towards the second and smaller toes.
The bunion develops over a period of time and the structure of the bone changes. This causes some ligaments in the foot to weaken and stretch while others tighten, slowly producing the bump.
Where On the Foot Do Bunions Occur?
The most common type of bunion, hallux valgus, will develop in the joint at the base of the big toe.
But you can also develop a bunion on the outside of the foot, in the joint at the base of the little toe—fifth toe or pinky toe. This type of bunion is called a tailor’s bunion, but is also known as a bunionette.
Tailor’s bunion will cause the little toe to curve inwards towards the fourth and third toe. This type of bunion is less common than hallux valgus, which occurs in the big toe.
Causes of Bunions
There are a number of reasons as to why you may develop bunions.
Your foot shape may be one of the reasons. Our foot structure and the shape of our feet are often inherited and if a member of your family has had bunions, then this could increase your risk.
People who have low arches or flat feet tend to overpronate, which places the structure of the foot under stress. Uneven weight distribution leads to the joint becoming unstable. This increases the risk of developing bunions.
If you wear high-heel shoes or other shoes that have a narrow or pointy toe, this will place the big toe under constant pressure. When the toes don’t have enough room to splay naturally and the forefoot joints are under constant pressure, it causes muscle imbalances in the foot.
The muscles are then no longer able to keep your toe pointing straight and the big toe goes out of alignment, leading to bunions.
Arthritic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout can affect the first MTP—metatarsophalangeal—joint, which over a period of time can cause a bunion. For preventative measures, it’s always a good idea to wear supportive shoes for arthritis.
When to See a Specialist
Bunions aren’t just going to go away by themselves, and while you may not have any pain when you first notice the bump, over time that could change.
Bunion pain can come and go, but you may experience severe pain that makes it difficult to walk or go about your daily activities. You should make an appointment with your podiatrist if you have difficulty moving your big toe and if you’re experiencing persistent foot pain.
If the upper of your shoe is starting to rub and irritate the area around the bunion, then you should go and see the doctor. You may even find that you have difficulty in finding shoes that fit you comfortably. If this is the case, then it’s best to make an appointment to see the doctor.
You should also see the doctor when you first notice the lump on the side of your big toe or if the existing lump has gotten bigger.
Tips to Treat Bunions at Home
The first thing that you want to do is reduce the amount of pressure that’s placed on the bunion. To protect the bunion and prevent the upper of your shoe from rubbing against it or putting pressure on it, you can use a gel-filled or moleskin pad.
Soak your feet in the bathtub or in a foot spa for 10 to 15 minutes using warm water. You can add a couple of tablespoons of epsom salts to the water. This will help to alleviate pain and can reduce swelling.
You can also ice the affected area several times a day for 15 to 20 minutes, as this will help to reduce inflammation and pain.
If you need to wear socks for bunions, then make sure that they have a seamless toe. Wool socks are soft and help to keep your feet warm and this will help to protect your bunion from any irritation.
During the course of the day, remove your shoes for a little while and gently wiggle and stretch your toes. This will remove the pressure that’s placed on your toes and can help provide pain relief. If you must wear shoes indoors, make sure they are supportive slippers for bunions.
You can do some stretches by gently pulling the big toe into its normal position. Then hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. You can do this 2 to 3 times throughout the day.
Gently massage the bunion and the area around the bunion, as this can help to stretch the surrounding muscles.
Do strength exercises for the feet and toes every day, as this will help with your foot mobility, strengthening the muscles that control your big toe, and maintain flexibility. You can try the following exercises:
- Toe points and curls
- Spreading your toes
- Picking up marbles
- Towel grip and pull
- Heel raises
To help alleviate pain and inflammation, use either nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or a topical ointment.
More Tips to Relieve Pain and Pressure on the Toe Joint
Getting shoes that have a wide toe box can help to relieve the pressure on the toe joint.
To ensure that you get a comfortable fit, go to a shoe store where the staff are able to measure your foot. They’ll then be able to provide a few options that you can try on for comfort.
The shoe should also provide adequate arch support, as this will help to distribute your body weight evenly and transfer the pressure away from the bunion.
You may find that you need to purchase shoe inserts that will help to realign your foot into its natural position. These will also provide additional support and alleviate the pressure in the forefoot.
Avoid wearing shoes that have no arch support, such as flip flops, as they shift your body weight and place pressure on the big toe joint, especially when walking. If you need to wear open-toed shoes, use sandals that allow room for the bunion. Or buy a specialty flip flop that does have arch support.
Our feet carry our entire body weight, and by maintaining a healthy body weight you can reduce and relieve the amount of pressure on the foot as it supports us.
If you’re overweight or obese, this will place your feet, knees, hips under excessive pressure, which can lead to other conditions, such as plantar fasciitis.
You can cover or hide your bunions, if you feel self-conscious. This may make going out more comfortable for you.
Surgery on a bunion is often the last resort. The type of surgical procedure that’s performed will depend on the severity of the bunion.
But factors such as your age, activity level, overall health, and the condition of the connective tissue and bones can influence the choice of the procedure that will be used.
A bunionectomy—bunion surgery—will remove the bunion and realign the big toe into its natural alignment. This will help you regain and improve your big toe function, as well as relieve pain. Most times, the surgeon will use screws and pins to realign the toe and “shave” the bunion off. They’ll also correct the soft tissue around the big toe.