Bunions are bony humps that form at the base of the big toe. They occur when a person's big toe begins to angle towards the toe beside it. Over time if the big toe remains in this unnatural position, the joint may become swollen and inflamed. Bunions can also occur beneath the little toe. These smaller bunions are called bunionettes. If bunions and bunionettes are left untreated these conditions tend to worsen. Walking may become painful, as a normal stride places weight and stress on the injured toe joint.
In the vast majority of cases bunions are caused by poorly fitting shoes. People who wear shoes that are narrow at the toe box are prone to developing bunions. Partly because of fashion, but also because their ligaments tend to be looser than a man's; women are more likely to develop bunions than men are.
High heel shoes pose a significant risk to the health of the toe joints. High heel shoes tend to be designed to taper towards the toe. Most shoes are designed to evenly distribute a person's weight across the entire length of the foot. This is not so with high heels. High heels angle the full force of the wearer's weight downward toward the toes, forcing the toes deeper into an already overly constricted space.
Less frequently, bunions may be caused by genetic predisposition. It is important for people in families that have a history of bunion development to remember that it is the shape of the foot, not the bunion itself that is inherited. In nearly all cases bunions can be prevented with proper attention to footwear and regular visits to the podiatrist.