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What Are Bunions?

Getting to know more about your bunions

What are bunions exactly? I realized I had to answer that question before I started any bunion treatment. Of course, I knew very well what my bunions looked like: bony lumps at the base of my big toes, sticking out, making it almost impossible for me to wear pretty shoes, sometimes hurting a bit and all in all not looking very attractive. But what are bunions exactly?

  1. In my particular case, I believe the bunions are partly nothing else than the bones of my big toe joints. They're just more visible because my big toes have moved out of position (they now bend towards my second toes). When I straighten my big toes, I see more clearly what the 'real' size of my bunions is.
  2. Another part of my bunions may actually be swollen soft tissue or a swelling of the bursa of my big toe joint. A bursa?

    A bursa is a sac producing a lubricating fluid to reduce friction in a joint (in this case your big toe joint) and to aid its movement. In a normal situation, a bursa produces just enough fluid to do this.

    When a joint is irritated however, the bursa produces way too much fluid and consequently starts to grow. This condition is called 'bursitis'. The result of a swollen bursa is pain of course. Moving the joint even makes this pain worse.
  3. And finally, part of my bunions might be new bone: when a somewhat swollen bursa starts to rub against your shoe, new bone can be formed.

So bunions can be a combination of (dislocated) existing bones, a swollen bursa, and new bone that been has formed.

Bunion and Hallux Valgus

Now you know what are bunions. But you've probably heard the word 'hallux valgus' too in connection with them. To be honest, for a long time I thought they were the same. But they're not, I found out, though they often come together.

'Hallux valgus' refers to the condition that your big toe is leaning towards your second toe. (The word 'hallux' refers to the big toe and the word 'valgus' to the fact that it is pointing away from the middle line of your body.)

I'm not sure what comes first: a hallux valgus or a bunion. Based on common sense, I believe both are possible – if your big toe is bending towards your second toe, this accounts for additional pressure on your big toe joint, which can cause a bunion. And when you have a bunion first, this may force your big toe in the direction of your second toe (at least when you're wearing shoes).

But frankly, I don't care what comes first. I could live with a hallux valgus I believe (as long as this is not bothering my second toe). But as for my bunions – I could do very well without them!

Tip

The above information is based on what I read and learned about bunions myself. However, I'm not a foot specialist and I don't pretend to be one. So if you'd like to know more, I suggest you read this article written by a podiatrist, with offers a thorough explanation of bunions.