How Are Bunions and Arthritis Related?

by | Mar 29, 2017 | Bunions

Let’s start by defining our terms. A bunion is a bony, enlarged bump that forms on the inside of your foot, right at the base of your biggest toe. That joint is known as the metatarsophalangeal joint, or MTPJ. By contrast, arthritis—in broadest scope—is something of an “umbrella” term that can refer to any condition that negatively affects joints, causing pain and stiffness. This includes “wear and tear” conditions like osteoarthritis, but it also includes inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

You could even think of a bunion as a very specific type of arthritis that only affects a certain joint in a certain way. However, when we think of arthritis in the feet, bunions aren’t typically what we’re talking about. This is even true when symptoms and appearance can be very similar between the two.

Other Types of Arthritis

Consider rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In this chronic disease, your immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. Over time, people with RA often develop severe deformities in their feet and hands. These can look like severe bunions, with a large bump and even the big toe crossing over its smaller neighbor. RA can lead to claw toes, as well. Because a bunion formed this way is the result of a (currently) non-curable auto-immune condition rather than wear and tear, it may be less likely to respond to conservative care and more likely to require surgical correction.

In other cases, people will often mistake osteoarthritis in the MTPJ for a bunion, when that isn’t necessarily the case. Pain and stiffness in the big toe joint is called hallux rigidus and can and arise for a variety of reasons. Stiffness doesn’t necessarily mean what you have is a bunion (hallux valgus) or that it will become one. In fact, with hallux rigidus, the bump is more likely to form on the top of the toe, rather than the side.

That said, because the MTPJ is so important for locomotion—it’s your push-off point with every step—arthritis there will typically force you to change your walking gait to accommodate that loss in function. Over time, that altered gait may lead to the formation of a bunion, along with other possible problems.

Help for Painful Joints is Here!

All that said, there’s one main point here. No matter what’s causing the pain and stiffness in your big toe—a “classic” bunion, rheumatoid arthritis, hallux rigidus, or something else—you owe it to yourself and your future happiness to make an appointment with the Kansas Foot Center.  The sooner we can evaluate your condition, the better your chances of a successful outcome. Give us a call today at (866) 222-5177.