As the severity of the deformity increased, so too, did the problems associated with it.
Even after taking into account pain in other areas of the body, people with bunions still reported poorer mental and physical functioning than those without bunions.
Previous studies have shown that bunions may affect gait, balance, and increase risk of falls in older people, but researchers speculate that along with these issues, people with severe bunions may report less satisfaction with their lives because they have trouble finding shoes they like to wear.
Getting a Leg Up on Bunions
So what can be done to prevent a bunion or keep it from getting worse?
“There are all kinds of splints and padding that you can put between your toes and things like that to try to prevent the toe from drifting over,” says Andrew J. Elliott, MD, a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
However, he notes that previous studies have shown that up to 90% of people who get bunions report a family history, which may mean that some feet are just more susceptible to them than others.
“If it’s going to drift over, it’s going to do that, and it’s mostly because of an imbalance in the muscles as well as maybe some laxity in some ligaments that allow the bones to sort of drift in the direction that they’re going to, which is where it is going to rub up against the shoe,” Elliott says.
He says patients should consider surgery if they’re in steady pain, or if they’ve noticed their bunion getting rapidly worse in the last year. As a bunion gets worse, it may also cause hammertoes or crossover toes, or pain in the ball of the foot, called metatarsalgia.
“As the deformity gets bigger, it gets harder to get a good outcome with correction,” he says.
Correction typically involves surgery to cut the bone and move it over, but it doesn’t always fix things completely.
Up to 15% of people will still experience some discomfort in their feet after surgery, and up to one-third say they still can’t always wear the shoes they’d like to after the procedure, Elliott says.