When your foot hurts, you’ll jump on any answer as to why if it means treatment and relief. But what if you get it wrong? Bunions are some of the most common sources of foot pain, but they’re far from the only source. Although you may think you have a bunion, you should be prepared for a podiatrist to tell you differently. Remember, Dr. Google’s diagnostic skills aren’t exactly up to snuff.
What Does Bunion Pain Feel Like?
Also known as hallux valgus (hallux is another name for the big toe), bunions appear as bony bumps at the base of the big toe. Sometimes they don’t hurt, but when they do you’ll feel pain and inflammation on the inside of the foot, where the big toe meets the front of your foot. You might also notice redness and inflammation in the area. Your toe may feel stiff, and you may have difficulty walking, especially if you’re wearing tight shoes.
If these symptoms sound fairly general—aside from the location of the pain—that’s because they are. That’s why bunions can be easily mistaken for other foot conditions (and vice versa). Here are some common conditions that are sometimes mistaken for bunions.
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that’s caused by too much uric acid in the bloodstream. That couldn’t sound any more different from a bunion, but here’s the important part: Gout typically affects the first joint of the big toe—exactly where you’d feel pain from a bunion.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the second-most common type of arthritis, after osteoarthritis. RA is an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system mistakes some aspect of your own body for an invader and attacks it, causing pain and inflammation. In the case of RA, the immune system attacks the joint lining. If this happens in the first joint of the big toe, pain and inflammation that can easily be confused for a bunion will be the result.
Osteoarthritis, also known as wear-and-tear arthritis, is the most common form of arthritis. It causes pain due to the chronic wearing away of articular cartilage, which wraps the ends of bones in a joint and allows them to glide together smoothly. Osteoarthritis can happen in any joint, including the big toe.
Ganglion cysts aren’t always painful, but then again, neither are bunions. These fluid-filled, noncancerous lumps are often found on the hand, wrist and foot. If one forms where the big toe meets the forefoot, it can look suspiciously like a bunion.
Bursitis sounds like it is similar to rheumatoid arthritis. Both conditions cause inflammation and pain to a fluid-filled structure in the joint. In the case of bursitis, that structure is the bursa, a cushioning and lubricating sac that sits anywhere in the body where there’s likely to be friction. Unlike RA, though, bursitis is not an autoimmune disease but is usually a chronic condition, brought on by overuse. If you develop bursitis in your big toe, you’ll notice—what else?—pain, inflammation and difficulty walking.
The Importance of Diagnosis
By now you should be starting to realize how important a proper diagnosis is for foot pain. You can’t just assume you have a bunion, get some over-the-counter shoe inserts and expect your pain to go away. What if it is actually gout, and you need to change your diet to avoid certain foods that cause flareups? Or what if it is RA, and you’ll need some pretty heavy-duty medication to keep it under control?
Even getting a bunion diagnosis from a podiatrist can open up much more effective treatments. Custom-made orthotics, for instance, are only available with a prescription and need a podiatrist to take measurements and casts of your feet. Custom orthotics are better than over-the-counter inserts in almost every way, but you can’t get them if you don’t visit a podiatrist.
If you are troubled by foot pain and think you may have a bunion, request an appointment at Essex Union Podiatry to get a proper diagnosis.