doctor holding custom shoe insertApproximately one-third of Americans have bunions. While not always considered a serious condition, bunions can become a physical burden for older adults and may be a sign the body is developing an inflammatory disease.

Here’s what you should keep in mind for yourself or a loved one.

What Are Bunions?

A bunion is a bump-like formation that appears on the outside of the big toe, often due to years of pressure on the area. This relationship causes the metatarsophalangeal or big toe joint to misalign, resulting in a hard lump. Bunions may form on one or both feet.

All people are susceptible to bunions, although older adults have higher risks. No matter your age, bunions are more likely to form if:

  • The way that you walk places greater pressure on one side of your foot
  • Your foot structure causes more pressure or weight to be placed on one side
  • Your big toe leans into the next toe
  • You work on your feet for hours at a time
  • You wear poorly fitting shoes that rub against the side of your foot

Particularly for older adults, you’re more likely to develop bunions if:

  • Other members in your family have had them
  • You have flat feet or another gait problem
  • You have rheumatoid arthritis or another inflammatory condition

Inflammation from arthritis gradually wears away toe joint cartilage, while placing additional stress on the outside of the foot. These two factors can contribute to bunions, especially if arthritis affects how you walk.

Signs of Bunions

Bunions can have a hard, red, swollen appearance. You’ll also experience the following:

  • Pain, numbness or a burning sensation as you try to bend your big toe
  • Inability to flex the big toe
  • Warmth or tenderness
  • Issues with standard shoes fitting your feet
  • Calluses, corns or a hammertoe near the bunion
  • Reduced mobility

Delaying bunion treatment can eventually lead to osteoarthritis, bursitis or bone spurs.

Treating and Managing Bunions

For older adults, bunions are treated as a health and lifestyle concern. You may be advised to lose weight, increase your activity level and be screened for certain chronic diseases.

Imaging may also be requested to better examine the affected bone. Immediate treatment is often a cortisone injection to reduce inflammation and pain. Along with these factors:

  • You’ll need to adjust your footwear to wider styles without heels or pointed toes.
  • Wearing custom orthotics and toe spacers during the day can address pronation and alignment issues. A splint worn at night can further help straighten the big toe.
  • Use over-the-counter analgesic and non-steroidal drugs to manage pain and swelling.
  • Cushion the area with bunion pads to make walking and movement less painful and correctly position the foot.
  • Based on X-ray results and gait issues, you may attend physical therapy. These sessions help with pain management, adjust how you move, strengthen the muscles to improve alignment and lessen any adhesions.
  • You may need a bunionectomy to remove the bump and realign the big toe.

If you or a loved one is experiencing bunion symptoms, the medical professionals at West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center can examine the feet. To learn more about our services, contact us today.