A bunion, also known as hallux valgus, is a painful deformity that develops at the base of the big toe. Bunions are caused when the big toe pushes and bends inward towards the other toes. This displaces the bones of the joint, causing it to protrude in a way that looks like a large growth. Bunions develop due to a variety of factors. Some people inherit feet that are more susceptible due to their shape and structure, having flat feet for instance. But bunions can be made worse by the wrong shoe, or by carrying extra weight or prolonged periods of standing or walking.
Women tend to suffer from bunions more often than men, probably because of the shoes they wear. But besides shoes, standing on the feet for long periods of time can also make symptoms of a bunion worse. Along with the bump, these bunion symptoms include pain or soreness, swelling, redness around the joint, a burning sensation or sometimes numbness. The big toe may develop calluses or not be able to move as well as it once did. Sores between the toes and ingrown toenails may also occur because of a bunion.
The most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain on the side of the foot. Shoes will typically aggravate bunions. Stiff leather shoes or shoes with a tapered toe box are the prime offenders. This is why bunion pain is most common in women whose shoes have a pointed toe box. The bunion site will often be slightly swollen and red from the constant rubbing and irritation of a shoe. Occasionally, corns can develop between the 1st and 2nd toe from the pressure the toes rubbing against each other. On rare occasions, the joint itself can be acutely inflamed from the development of a sac of fluid over the bunion called a bursa. This is designed to protect and cushion the bone. However, it can become acutely inflamed, a condition referred to as bursitis.
Diagnosis begins with a careful history and physical examination by your doctor. This will usually include a discussion about shoe wear and the importance of shoes in the development and treatment of the condition. X-rays will probably be suggested. This allows your doctor to measure several important angles made by the bones of the feet to help determine the appropriate treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
Long-term treatment of bunions must be directed towards re-balancing the foot, so that we no longer walk with our weight forced on to the inner border of the foot. This is accomplished by controlling and reducing pronation with the use of a high quality arch support or custom made orthotics. These devices comfortably re-balance the feet and overcome pronation. This reduces the abnormal weight forces on the big toe and its metatarsal head, allowing the feet to function normally. As a result, the deformity should not worsen, and the pain should gradually subside. If the foot is not re-balanced, the deformity and pain will become worse.
Arthrodesis involves fusing together two bones in your big toe joint (metatarsophalangeal joint). The procedure is usually only recommended for people with severe deformities of the big toe joint, which make it too difficult for doctors to completely fix the joint, or when there's advanced degeneration of the joint. After arthrodesis, the movement of your big toe will be severely limited and you won't be able to wear high heels. An excision arthroplasty involves removing the bunion and the toe joint. A false joint is created by scar tissue that forms as a result of the operation. The procedure involves pinning the joint in place with wires, which will be removed around three weeks after surgery is carried out. An excision arthroplasty can only be used in certain circumstances, and is usually reserved for severe, troublesome bunions in elderly people.