A bunion is a bony protrusion on the side of the big toe or in some less common cases on the outside of the small toe. The protrusion at the joint of the base of the toe can become irritated, swollen and painful. As the protrusion becomes larger the toe bends toward the second toe causing further sources of irritation. There appears to be multiple causes of a bunion. Genetically the foot may be shaped such that normal activity puts excessive pressure on the big toe eventually causing a bunion. Some suggest footwear that does not fit properly may also put excessive pressure and cause a bunion. The protrusion may be excessive bone structure or a fluid sac called the bursa that becomes inflamed. In any case the deformity of the toe makes it difficult to find proper fitting footwear, is not a pleasant sight, and can be very painful.
With prolonged wearing of constraining footwear your toes will adapt to the new position and lead to the deformity we know as a foot bunion. Footwear is not the only cause of a bunion. Injuries to the foot can also be a factor in developing a bunion. Poor foot arch control leading to flat feet or foot overpronation does make you biomechanically susceptible to foot bunions. A family history of bunions also increases your likelihood of developing bunions. Many people who have a bunion have a combination of factors that makes them susceptible to having this condition. For example, if you are a women over the age of forty with a family history of bunions, and often wear high-heeled shoes, you would be considered highly likely to develop a bunion.
Patients with bunions will often display pain over the prominent bump on the inside of their forefoot (the medial eminence?). However, they may also have pain under the ball of the foot (under the area near the base of the second toe). Symptoms can vary in severity from none at all to severe discomfort aggravated by standing and walking. There is no direct correlation between the size of the bunion and the patient?s symptoms. Some patients with severe bunion deformities have minimal symptoms, while patients with mild bunion deformities may have significant symptoms. Symptoms are often exacerbated by restrictive shoe wear, particularly shoes with a narrow toe box or an uncomfortable, stiff, restraining upper.
People with bunions may be concerned about the changing appearance of their feet, but it is usually the pain caused by the condition that leads them to consult their doctor. The doctor will evaluate any symptoms experienced and examine the affected foot for joint enlargement, tissue swelling and/or tenderness. They will also assess any risk factors for the condition and will ask about family history. An x-ray of the foot is usually recommended so that the alignment of big toe joint can be assessed. This would also allow any other conditions that may be affecting the joint, such as arthritis, to be seen.
Non Surgical Treatment
Follow the advice given by a Podiatrist. Use felt pads to help keep pressure off the painful area of the bunions. Wear shoes that are wide and deep to accomodate the bunions. Fitting of footwear is very important. Avoid the use of high heel shoes. Use exercises to keep the joint mobile. Night splints may help with the bunion symptoms. The aim of these are to hold the toe in a more correct position. Padding or foam between the big toe and the second toe is sometimes recommended, it should, generally, not be recommended as the big toe is usually so strong it just further 'squeezes' the lesser toes and can lead to problems between these toes. The padding between the two toes will not straighten the big toe. However, sometimes the padding may be needed to help with symptoms that originate inside the joint if the bunion is painful.
In severe hallux valgus bunion cases, the first long bone (metatarsal) in the foot dramatically shifts away from the second metatarsal, resulting in looseness and a large deformity. In severe bunion corrections, a surgery known as the Lapidus procedure realigns the first metatarsal into its natural position. Using screws, the surgery holds the bone stable so it does not shift again and reduces the change of the bunion returning to basically none. Surgery may also involve removing the enlarged portion of the bunion region, cutting and realigning the bone, and correcting the position of the tendons and ligaments. By using a special plate with Lapidus procedures, University Foot and Ankle Institute patients are able to put weight on their foot after only 2-3 weeks, rather than the typical 6-8 weeks of no weight.
To help prevent bunions be sure your shoes don't cramp or irritate your toes. Choose shoes with a wide toe box - there should be space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Your shoes should conform to the shape of your feet without squeezing or pressing any part of your foot. Avoid pointy-toed shoes.