Are Bunions Hereditary?

Feb 17, 2020

If you’re a keen observer of the world around you, you may have noticed a curious tendency among people’s feet:

Bunions really do seem to run in families, don’t they? If you know someone who has one, chances seem pretty good that their child or parent (or both!) also has one.

But is that really true? Or is your brain playing tricks on you? And if so, why?

We can imagine those of you who have a parent with bunions—but don’t have them yourself, at least not yet—are especially interested to know.

So What’s the Answer?

Let’s cut to the chase right away: by and large, yes, bunions do seem to have a hereditary component.

Or in other words, your eyes and brain aren’t deceiving you. If one member of a family has a bunion on one or both feet, their offspring are more likely than average to develop their own at some point.

However, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about averages and probabilities here. So if you’re starting to freak out—or suddenly feeling more secure—remember that:

  • Just because your mom or dad has a bunion doesn’t necessarily mean you will get one.
  • Just because your parents have perfectly aligned feet doesn’t necessarily mean you will never get a bunion yourself.
  • Even if you did inherit a foot shape that is more likely to develop a bunion, you still may be able to prevent it from forming.

Confused? Let’s dig in a bit deeper.

Why Are Bunions Often Hereditary?

To help explain this, let’s consider what’s happening inside your foot as a bunion forms and slowly gets worse.

On a fundamental level, bunions form due to instability in one or more joints—typically either the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTPJ) at the base of the big toe, or the Lisfranc joint at the other end of the long metatarsal bone on the inside middle of your foot.

When these joints become unstable, the bones start to push out of alignment. The metatarsal bone begins to shift outward, away from the center of your foot. The reverse happens to the big toe, which starts to point the other direction toward its neighbors. And where they meet, a bony prominence gets larger and larger.

But what causes these joints to become unstable in the first place? In many cases, it comes down to the way your feet are naturally shaped.

See, no two pairs of feet are exactly the same. Some people have very narrow feet and others have very wide feet. Some have low or even no arches, while others have exceptionally high ones.

And the thing is, unfortunately, not all foot shapes are created equal when it comes to properly supporting your weight, cushioning the impact of your steps, and keeping excessive pressure away from vulnerable bones and joints.

Perhaps you can see where this is going. Some foot shapes are just naturally prone to developing a joint deformity or instability in the first metatarsal and great toe.

And while your exact foot shape and structure are unique to you, there’s a very good chance that it’ll closely resemble those of at least one of your parents. If that parent already has bunions, you are very likely at higher risk.

So Are Your Feet Doomed?

Probably not.

While most podiatrists agree that there is a very large hereditary component behind the formation of most bunions, it’s not the only factor. In most cases, it’s really a combination of both the feet you were born with and the way you treat them as you grow. Nature and nurture, in other words.

So what should you do if your parents or grandparents have bunions, and you don’t want them for yourself? It’ll be extra important for you to:

  • Always wear comfortable shoes that have a lot of cushioning, good arch support, and plenty of room for toes to wiggle and move up and down and side to side.
  • Avoid shoe styles that shift weight and pressure toward the front of your feet—high heels being the obvious example.
  • Stretch and exercise your feet and toes regularly to keep the joints mobile and the supporting muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong.
  • Keep close track of how your foot shape changes (or doesn’t change) over time. Bunions tend to develop very slowly. If you start to notice a bump, or a change in alignment in your toe, give us a call.

If you catch a bunion early—just when it is starting to form—there’s a very good chance you can stop it from getting worse, or at least slow down the progression rate as much as possible. We can provide you with a set of orthotics that will help protect the unstable joints and divert pressure and pain away from them.

So don’t be afraid! Just be careful, be watchful, and let us know if and when you notice anything unusual. Hopefully, you’ll be able to stop a bunion from ever forming in the first place. And even if you aren’t, we’ll do everything we can to keep it small and painless for as long as we can, so you can avoid surgery as long as possible.

Schedule an appointment with us by calling either of our two area offices.