What Causes Bunions?

One of the most frequently asked and incorrectly answered questions on the internet when it comes to bunions is: “What causes bunions?”

And I bet you will commonly read answers on sites like About.com that wearing the wrong type of shoes, tight shoes or high heels that cram your toes together causes bunions.

This answer is bunk.

Dr. Glen Copeland, is the author of one of the best-selling books on foot health issues called, “The Good Foot Book.” He writes on page 29:

Contrary to popular belief, bunions are not commonly caused by ill-fitting shoes, although in some cases shoes can worsen the condition. Still, at least one popular medical dictionary states that bunions are “usually caused by ill-fitting shoes.” Why then, do some people living in tropical climes – people who have never worn shoes – develop bunions?

He continues:

Another widely held belief is that the only way to rid yourself of [bunions] is to undergo painful surgery, suffering through a lengthy and uncomfortable recuperation period. Many bunions can be treated without surgical intervention.

And his answer makes sense. If people who do not wear shoes are getting bunions, clearly there has to be a reason that goes beyond the mere wearing of poorly fitted shoes. And when you examine the instances of bunions in men it should further make you wonder.

I do not know of any grown man who wears tight fitting shoes. Who does that? Heck, most guys probably wear shoes that are a half size or more too big on average. Us guys are not really interested in wearing tight fitting clothes or accessories of any kind, be it pants, shirts or shoes.

This urban legend probably takes root in the fact that on the surface it sounds legitimate and when we look at what contortionist women become when it goes to finding and wearing shoes it seem kind of logical. And what complicates the matter is that tight and constricting shoes can exacerbate the situation or cause some bunions in women. These are usually bunionettes or Tailor’s bunions located on the outside pinky toe.

Biomechanical and Anatomical Flaws Cause Bunions

There are many different things that can cause bunions to develop on your feet. The overwhelming majority of these causes will be biomechanical or structural in nature. For example:

  • Flat feet
  • Fallen arches
  • Biomechanical/abnormal pronation
  • Loose ligaments in the foot
  • Morton’s foot
  • Deformities in the bone and/or joint structures
  • Flat Feet and Collapsed Arches
  • Individuals with flat feet and no arches are susceptible to bunions due to the fact that the foot is not properly developed to accommodate the bearing and distribution of your body weight.

Abnormal Pronation

Take a moment to stand up and walk around a few steps. I want you to pay special attention to the movement of your foot and feel where your body and foot are placing pressure onto the ground.

Now, imagine your foot is a tire. A new tire or a tire in good condition should roll nice and flat along the surface of the road so that the weight of the vehicle is evenly distributed. Some cars have poor alignment or some tires may have air pressure levels that are too high or too low. As a result, you will see uneven wear on the tread.

Your foot is much the same way. A normal, healthy foot should distribute most of the weight of your body as it walks along the front of your foot with a slight preference to the big and second toe. When the foot pushes against the grown to propel you forward, the pressure on the slight extra weight on the big and second toe is called pronation. Pronation is the slight inward rotation of the foot as it pushes off.

Abnormal pronation occurs when your foot is placing too much of the load on your big toe. Your toe joint was not designed to bear such a disproportionate share of your body weight. As such, the constant strain, exertion and pressure of that body weight causes the joint and toes to become misshapen. Essentially, through time, your toes and the toe joint become a deformity.

Unfortunately for us, our bodies are not operating as they were designed and this causes bunions to appear. Much like we may need to take our car to a mechanic for a tune-up or repairs, there are things you can do to correct this problem without undergoing a bunionectomy.

This is where bunion splints and special orthotics come into play. With continued advances in research and study, doctors are optimistic that bunion surgery may become an obsolete and outdated treatment option in the future, except for those with severe problems or have refused to treat the bunion for quite some time.

When it comes to what causes bunions we can take comfort in knowing that there are solutions within our control that do not include surgery.

Loose Ligaments in the Foot

There are several different ligaments throughout the foot and ankle. Loose ligaments in the toes, specifically in the joint capsule of the big toe, allow bunions to develop more easily.

Morton’s Foot

Morton’s foot is a condition where the first metatarsal bone in the big toe which connects the toe to the whole foot is shorter than the other metatarsals in the other toes. As you can imagine, this creates uneven weight distribution and abnormal pressure on the big toe joint.

Structural Deformities

Other individuals may be born with bones and joints that do not develop properly. When the bones and joints take irregular shapes or do not function as designed, a bunion may occur.

Other Factors Causing Bunions

Medical literature cites genetics as also being a contributing factor in the occurrence of bunions. However, the hereditary issues are deemed to be a minor influence in the grand scheme of things and are far less important than the issues discussed above.

Another issue one must be cognizant of is foot traumas. If you injure your foot in some manner, you may consciously or unconsciously alter your gait or stride, shifting your weight and balance. The shifting of this weight, if the injury is prolonged and lingers, can cause a whole host of issues, including bunions.

There are numerous instances where professional athletes, like baseball pitchers, have had their throwing motion altered unknowingly in response to a variety of foot, ankle, knee and leg injuries. This has resulted in career ending elbow and shoulder injuries.

Obviously, you don’t have millions of dollars riding on the health of your foot. However, the point is that injuries to your feet or toes can lead to bunions.

The overwhelming majority of individuals dealing with bunions will fall into the very first category above.