A bunion is a prominence over the inside part of the foot where the big toe joins the rest of the foot. Pressure on the prominence from shoes causes pain and swelling due to inflammation. The bunion occurs when the foot bone connecting to the big toe (the first metatarsal) moves gradually towards the opposite foot. This is called hallux valgus deformity. This leads to the big toe being pushed towards the second toe (away from the opposite foot) so that the big toe points away from the other foot. Other problems can develop with a bunion. For example the second toe may overlap the big toe causing a cross-over toe deformity. With shoe pressure, corns and calluses develop.
There is much debate as to which is the major cause, but it is likely that your genetic makeup makes you more prone to a bunion or bunionette and that then wearing ill-fitting footwear causes them to develop. Studies have shown that in cultures where people don?t wear shoes but are habitually barefoot, there are very few cases of foot bunions indicating a strong correlation with shoe wear. They are more common in females, most likely due to choice of footwear.
SymptomsThe dominant symptom of a bunion is a big bulging bump on the inside of the base of the big toe. Other symptoms include swelling, soreness and redness around the big toe joint, a tough callus at the bottom of the big toe and persistent or intermittent pain.
Generally, observation is adequate to diagnose a bunion, as the bump is obvious on the side of the foot or base of the big toe. However, your physician may order X-rays that will show the extent of the deformity of the foot.
Non Surgical Treatment
Most bunions can be treated without surgery. The first step for treating bunions is to ensure that your shoes fit correctly. Often good footwear is all that is needed to alleviate the problem. Shoes that are wide enough to avoid pressure on the bunion are the obvious first step. Look for shoes with wide insteps and broad toes and definitely no high heels. Sometimes, you can get your existing shoes stretched out by a shoe repairer. Seek advice from a podiatrist. Pads and toe inserts. Protective bunion pads may help to cushion the joint and reduce pain. Toe inserts are available that splint the toes straight. It may be recommended that you wear some orthotics to improve your foot position when walking. Medicines. Some people find anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, or paracetamol help ease the pain of their bunions.
For patients who have arthritis of the big toe joint associated with a bunion deformity an osteotomy is not performed. The deformity is corrected through the joint either with a fusion of the joint or by removing a portion of the joint (an arthroplasty). Fusion of the big toe joint is an excellent operation since it corrects the deformity, prevents the bunion from returning and eliminates the arthritis simultaneously.
Bunions often become painful if they are allowed to progress. But not all bunions progress. Many bunion problems can be managed without surgery. In general, bunions that are not painful do not need surgical correction. For this reason, orthopaedic surgeons do not recommend “preventive” surgery for bunions that do not hurt; with proper preventive care, they may never become a problem.