The term ?bunion,? as it is popularly used, describes a variety of deformities involving a painful prominence and swelling at the base of the big toe. Orthopaedists use additional terms to describe the different deformities. The condition in which the big toe deviates from the normal position toward the direction of the second toe is referred to as hallux valgus. Dorsal bunions are a different variety in which the prominence appears on the top of the base of the toe, often the result of an arthritic joint.
What causes bunions? This question is often answered by blaming shoes. But in fact, shoes only play a small role in developing bunions. Yes, shoes, especially high heels cause abnormal squeezing of your forefoot. This in turn to help promote a bunion. But if everyone who wore high heels shoes had a bunion, there would be a lot more then the 15% prevalence we see in the general population. As you can see from the flow chart, genetics plays the major role in development of bunion deformities. Genetics determines the way your foot functions. Are you flatfooted? Are your joints flexible or stiff? Do you have a high arch? Do you have tight muscles? These traits are determined by your genetic code. These characteristics then govern how your bones and joints move when you walk. As an example, if your joints are very flexible, this can cause an abnormal amount of instability in your forefoot when you walk. Over time, this abnormal motion will cause the a bunion to develop by allowing your first metatarsal to "drift" towards the mid-line of your body.
SymptomsIf a foot bunion is developing, you may experience some of these symptoms. Bulge or bump on the outside of the base of your big toe. Swelling. Redness. Soreness. Thickening of the skin in that location. Corns or calluses. Limited movement of your big toe. Persistent or periodic pain. The pain you experience may be mild or severe. It may become increasingly difficult to walk in your normal shoes. The pressure on your other toes can cause your toenails to grow inward or your smaller toes to become bent.
A doctor can very often diagnose a bunion by looking at it. A foot x-ray can show an abnormal angle between the big toe and the foot. In some cases, arthritis may also be seen.
Non Surgical Treatment
The treatment of bunions should be individualized because the degree of deformity is not always consistent with the degree of pain. The most important first step in the treatment (and prevention) of bunions is to wear properly fitted shoes, with a low heel and adequate room in the toe area. Further treatment may include relative rest and icing to decrease pain around the MTP joint, medications to reduce inflammation and pain, stretching and strengthening exercises and shoe orthotics. If the above measures are not successful, surgery may be required.
If non-surgical treatments fail to relieve bunion pain and when the pain of a bunion interferes with daily activities, it?s time to discuss surgical options with a foot and ankle surgeon. Together you can decide if surgery is best for you. A variety of surgical procedures is available to treat bunions. The procedures are designed to remove the ?bump? of bone, correct the changes in the bony structure of the foot, and correct soft tissue changes that may also have occurred. The goal of surgery is the reduction of pain. In selecting the procedure or combination of procedures for your particular case, the foot and ankle surgeon will take into consideration the extent of your deformity based on the x-ray findings, your age, your activity level, and other factors. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.