Bunions (sometimes referred to as Hallux abducto valgus) are enlargements of the inner portion of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint at the base of your big toe. More commonly, they are described as a bump on the side of the big toe. The foot bunion is the result of changes that occur in the framework of the bones at the front of your foot. Instead of pointing straight ahead, your big toe begins to lean into your second toe, throwing the bones out of alignment. Bunions are progressive, meaning you will not just wake up one day and find a visible bump (unless it was caused by a bug bite or something of that nature). Bunions are generally attributed to genetics and improper footwear. It may take years for a bunion to fully develop and begin to show symptoms. Some people may never experience symptoms at all. Bunions may begin to form during one?s teenage years, but they usually occur in people aged 20-30. Women are three times more likely than men to have bunions.
Bunions are a common problem that can cause foot pain and difficulty wearing shoes. Bunions occur in about 30% of the population of most Western countries. They are seen most commonly in women and become more common as people get older. Patients with bunions generally have one of two problems that can cause pain. As the big toe becomes more and more angled (pointing toward the other toes), the base of the toe becomes more and more prominent, forming the bunion. The bunion forms in part because of the new angle of the toe, and in part due to inflammation over the bunion surface. As the inflammation worsens, people can experience pain with shoe wear and walking. The big toe may eventually come to lie over, or more commonly under, the second toe. This may cause further irritation while wearing shoes and more pain. The second toe of patients who have bunions commonly forms a hammer toe.
The initial symptom may be pain at the joint prominence when wearing certain shoes. The joint capsule may be tender at any stage. Later symptoms may include a painful, warm, red, cystic, movable, fluctuant swelling located medially (adventitial bursitis) and swellings and mild inflammation affecting the entire joint (osteoarthritic synovitis), which is more circumferential. With hallux limitus or rigidus, there is restriction of passive joint motion, tenderness at the dorsolateral aspect of the joint, and increased dorsiflexion of the distal phalanx.
Your doctor will be able to diagnose a bunion by asking about your symptoms and examining your feet. You may also have blood tests to rule out any other medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout, although this is rare. Your doctor may refer you to a podiatrist or chiropodist (healthcare professionals who specialise in conditions that affect the feet).
Non Surgical Treatment
A bunion may only need to be treated if it's severe and causing significant pain and discomfort. The different treatments for bunions are described below. If possible, non-surgical treatment for bunions will be used, which your GP can discuss with you. Non-surgical treatments can ease the pain and discomfort caused by a bunion, but they can't change the shape of your foot or prevent a bunion from getting worse over time. Non-surgical treatments include painkillers, bunion pads, orthotics, wearing suitable footwear, These are discussed in more detail below. If your bunion is painful, over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may be recommended.Bunion pads may also ease the pain of a bunion. Reusable bunion pads, made of either gel or fleece, are available over the counter from pharmacies. Some are adhesive and stick over the bunion, while others are held against your foot by a small loop that fits over your big toe. Bunion pads stop your foot rubbing on your shoe and relieve the pressure over the enlarged joint at the base of your big toe. Orthotics are placed inside your shoes to help realign the bones of your foot. They may help relieve the pressure on your bunion, which can ease the pain. However, there's little evidence that orthotics are effective in the long term. It's important that the orthotic fits properly, so you may want to seek advice from your GP or podiatrist (a specialist in diagnosing and treating foot conditions), who can suggest the best ones for you.
There are many different procedures described to correct bunions. You should be aware that usually just shaving the bunion off, although it is attractive and minimally invasive, is usually not enough. Initially the foot will look much better but with time the bunion will recur. Arthrodesis refers to surgery performed on the great toe joint where the joint is fused. This is usually reserved for people with very severe deformities when other surgical options are impossible. Bunionectomy refers to the simple removal of the bunion itself. This is seldom used because it doesn?t correct the underlying bone problems. Osteomety is the commonest surgical procedure. The bone is cut and the bones realigned and pinned in place until they heal so that the underlying bone deformity is corrected and the bunion will not recur. The resection arstplasty refers to the removal of the toe joint and this creates a flexible scar that functions as the joint instead. In the past there has been some interest in implanting artificial joints but this has fallen out of favor due to the fact that they usually do not hold up with the normal every day stress that people put their feet through.
Shoes that possess tapering toe boxes should be avoided if you have a bunion, as narrow toe boxes will hasten the progression of your bunion deformity. In some cases, conservative measures, including switching to appropriate footwear, may not have the desired effect, and your podiatrist may recommend for you a surgical procedure known as a bunionectomy.