Bunions, those bony protrusions at the base of the big toes, are not only unsightly but also painful. Approximately one in three people suffer from bunions at some point in their lives, with the majority of suffers being women. If you think you’re doomed to a lifetime of ugly footwear because of bunions—think again. There are plenty of other options for prevention and treatment.

Why Do Bunions Form?

Bunions form when the big toe moves or turns inward toward the other toes. As a result the big toe slips out of place and a large bump forms at the metatarsophalangeal joint at its base. The joint itself enlarges and continues to push the toe further inward. Swelling can also occur at the joint and cause pain and even bursitis.

In many instances the development of bunions is hereditary. So if bunions run in your family, you have a higher chance of developing them. Foot injuries and neuromuscular problems can also result in bunions. Excessive pronation or rolling inwards of the foot can also cause them. Dancers and athletes are particularly susceptible due to strain caused by their movements. And of course, improperly fitting shoes are also to blame.

Preventing Bunions

One of the simplest ways to prevent bunions is to wear comfortable well-fitting shoes. And no, that doesn’t mean you’re only allowed to wear grandmotherly orthopedic shoes. Choose styles with a wider toe box and lower heel. Make sure shoes don’t squish or pinch your feet.

Also be conscious of your foot pronation. If you find that your feet turn inward when you walk, you may want to consider getting arch supports or custom orthotics for your shoes.

Targeted exercises can also help you avoid developing bunions. Try stretching your toes and holding for a few seconds several times a day. Also flex and stretch them. You can also practice picking up objects with your toes. Rolling a golf or tennis ball under your toes and feet is also helpful.

Treatment

If you find that despite your best efforts to prevent bunions, they develop anyway, don’t despair. There are plenty of treatment options available depending on the pain and severity of your bunion.

Bunion straighteners are often helpful. These are devices that you wear on your foot to help gently bring your toe back into place. They work as a splint, brace or bootie to correct your alignment and are usually worn at night. Bunion pads and custom supports can also provide relief.

Physical therapy is an option that can help you correct the movements that lead to pain and discomfort.

Mild joint pain and swelling from bunions can be alleviated with NSAIDs like Tylenol or Advil. Ice or cold packs are another choice.

Finally, if you find that living with your bunions severely interferes with your normal daily activities, surgical treatment is the likely option. Each case is unique so your surgery will be tailored based on your individual needs.