What Causes Bunions?

All feet change shape a little bit over the course of time, even during adulthood. Arches sag, just a bit. Feet get a little wider. That’s just the consequence of living.

But they aren’t supposed to change that much!

Yes, we’re talking about bunions. And by some estimates, they affect around 30 percent of the adult population to some degree. Those numbers skyrocket among women and seniors.

But why do some people get bunions, and others don’t?

Unfortunately, there’s not always a simple explanation for this one. We’re not always 100% sure what may cause a specific instance of bunions in a specific individual.

That said, there are a handful of factors that tend to be associated with a higher-than-average risk of developing one.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common.

Bunion foot in grassYour Feet Lost the Genetic Lottery

We get a lot of things from our parents. Our sense of humor, perhaps. Or maybe our values, coping strategies, or even general outlook on life.

Well, you can add feet to that list.

That’s why, according to one study, more than 4 out of 5 people with bunions have a family history of the condition.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that some foot shapes and structures are just naturally more prone to developing bunions than others. And there’s really not much you can do about that. Sorry!

Consider that, at their core, bunions are the result of destabilization in the joint at the base of your big toe. Once that joint starts getting wobbly, that’s when you see the toe start to get pushed out of alignment and a hard bump forming along the outside of the foot.

And if your foot shape happens to do a poor job of absorbing impact force or dispersing them properly, that could mean more weight and pressure concentrated right on that joint—and therefore a greater chance of a bunion.

One other way that genetics can influence bunion formation is through genetic conditions. Certain inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, which are either outright inherited or have an underlying genetic component, are also linked with a higher risk of bunions.

Your Footwear Choices Have Been Less Than Ideal

Now, it might be “common knowledge” among some parts that high heels cause bunions. But you might be surprised to learn that there’s some degree of disagreement in the medical community about this.

In fact, at this point most medical experts agree that bad shoes probably do not cause bunions in and of themselves. In other words, there needs to be an inherited foot flaw first.

However, in practical terms? If you do have those foot flaws, wearing bad shoes could be the very thing that triggers your bunion to form in the first place.

At the very least, poor footwear can lead to an earlier onset of the condition, faster development and worsening of the bunion, and of course more bunion-related pain when wearing said shoes.

So what counts as a “less than ideal” footwear choice? The most flagrant offenders include:

  • High heels. No surprise there. Putting all your weight on the front of your feet is a bad idea.
  • Shoes with narrow or pointed toe boxes. Many if not most high heels also fall into this category. However, any shoes that crowd your toes can risk damaging the joint.
  • Shoes that are just too tight in general. You’d be surprised at how many people wear shoes that aren’t big or wide enough for their feet. Measure your feet every time you go shoe shopping. Also, try to go later in the day, when your feet are already a little swollen.

Woman in high heels rubbing her foot bunion

You Injured Your Feet

Of course, there are other, more basic and blunt ways to destabilize a toe joint.

Acute injuries are one such possibility. Let’s say you dropped a heavy object on your foot by accident, or stubbed your toe hard against a wall or table leg.

Depending on which tendons and ligaments are damaged, how badly they’re hurt, and how well or quickly they heal and are rehabbed, that big toe joint might wind up weaker and more susceptible to developing a bunion over time.

The same goes for chronic injuries. Runners who overpronate, for example, may tend to be more likely to develop bunions. That’s because overpronators tend to put extra stress on the area near the base of the big toe during push-off.

Whatever the Cause, Visit Dr. Danciger for the Solution

Of course, regardless of how you got your bunion, you probably really only want to know one thing—how to keep it from disrupting your day-to-day life!

We’re happy to help you on that front. And the earlier you see us, the more we can help.

That’s because bunions don’t get better over time, they only get worse—unless you do something to slow their progression or fix them entirely.

The earlier we intervene in the process, the more effective treatment options you’re going to have—for example, we might be able to stabilize the forefoot using orthotics or taping, rather than going straight to surgical correction.

So don’t wait until the pain is unbearable. Give Dr. Harvey Danciger in Palm Desert a call today at (760) 568-0108.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle
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