Bunions are bony lumps on the sides of the feet, where the big toe joins the rest of the foot. They are thought to be caused by poorly or tight-fitting shoes. Around 14 million people in the UK have bunions, with 10 million of those being women.
What are the signs and symptoms of bunions?
Bunions occur when the big toe joint becomes misaligned and forms a lump at the big toe – the medical name for this is ‘hallux valgus’.
Bunions can cause aching, swelling, tenderness and hardened, darkened or reddened skin around the site of the bunion. The joint misalignment can also lead to joint problems further up the leg, such as in the knees and cause problems with walking.
How are bunions diagnosed and treated?
A GP may suggest taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, or using heat packs or supports for toes, such as a splint or a toe spacer to stop the big toe becoming further misaligned.
If the pain or walking problems are stopping someone going about their daily activities and the person with bunions has tried managing it with pain relief and supportive shoes, they can opt for surgery.
Surgery is not carried out for cosmetic reasons – only to improve the person’s quality of life.
Surgery for bunions involves removing a part of the bone at the joint and realigning the big toe.
Self-treatment may also include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce undue pressure on joints
- Wearing good quality, supportive footwear, or insoles to support the feet
- Avoiding high-heeled or pointed shoes.
There are a few ways to confirm what sort of reasonable adjustments should be made for an employee with bunions:
An employer can ask questions regarding the nature of an employee’s bunions and what extra support they may need can be broached sensitively. For example:
- Have they required adjustments in the past? For example, avoiding tasks which require them to be on their feet for a while at a time.
- Encouraging the employee to express their strengths and interests and which tasks they might enjoy doing is a positive way of adapting to their needs.
What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees with bunions?
Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with bunions if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has bunions which are having a long-term, adverse effect on their day-to-day life. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.
If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance upfront, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of bunions:
- Flexible return-to-work policy to accommodate an employee who has had surgery to remove their bunions.
- Allowance for regular breaks to reduce the impact on feet and legs if standing for long periods, including time to break if the employee is taking pain medication for their condition which may affect their concentration, or to prepare a hot water bottle or heat pack to alleviate pain.
- Adjustments to duties depending on the severity of their symptoms, which may be variable and improve or deteriorate from one week to the next. This may include delegating tasks requiring walking or standing to a colleague.
- Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the need for the employee’s adjustments.
- Alternative parking space so that the employee doesn’t need to walk as far from their car to their workstation.
National Bunion Day – page for bunion awareness with footwear recommendations and blog posts informing people of bunions and how to treat them (01923 227400).
Versus Arthritis – charity providing information and support to people living with arthritis, including related foot pain and bunions (0300 790 0400).