Bunions (hallux valgus) are often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. But a bunion is more than that. The visible bump actually reflects changes in the bony framework of the front part of the foot. With a bunion, the big toe leans toward the second toe, rather than pointing straight ahead. This throws the bones out of alignment, producing the bunion’s “bump.” Bunions are a progressive disorder. They begin with a leaning of the big toe, gradually changing the angle of the bones over the years and slowly producing the characteristic bump, which continues to become increasingly prominent. Bunions can be painful, but not always. Bunions are always progressive, so the deformity becomes more prounced over time, even if its not painful.
Inflammatory joint diseases. Those who suffer from rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are at risk for bunions, although many times, those who suffer from bunions will mistakenly attribute the soreness in their feet to arthritis. Genetic and neuromuscular factors. Individuals with Down?s Syndrome are believed to be more prone to developing bunions; therefore, the gait and feet of such patients should be examined carefully and regularly so that any problems can be caught and treated early. Similarly, individuals of any age who have been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos or Marfan?s Syndrome, have also been shown to have a higher than average occurrence of bunions. Limb inequality. Individuals who have legs of unequal length often suffer from bunions on the longer limb due to the irregular mechanics of their walking or running gait.
SymptomsThe most obvious symptoms of a bunion are. Pain in the area of the MTP joint, the joint where your big toe connects to your foot. Bending of the big toe in towards the other toes. An enlarged bump of bone or tissue at the MTP joint. Each symptom can range in degree from small to severe. Sometimes the pain can be sufficient to make it difficult to walk in normal shoes. Other symptoms may include. Swelling and inflammation of the skin around the MTP joint. Thickening of the skin in the area of the joint. Restricted motion in your big toe. Pressure from the inward bending of your big toe can affect your other toes, leading to corns on your smaller toes. Ingrown toenails on the smaller toes. Development of hammertoes in the other toes. Calluses on the bottom of your foot. If you have any of these symptoms, especially pain, displacement of your big toe or development of a bulge, you should consider consulting your physician. Even if you’re not significantly bothered by some of these symptoms, bunions tend to continue getting bigger and more serious over time and should be taken care of before they do so.
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
The initial treatment of a bunion should be non-operative. Symptoms can often be greatly improved with simple non-operative interventions. Non-operative treatment may include properly fitted shoes, Properly fitting comfort shoes with a wide non-constrictive toe box, especially one that is made out of a soft material such as leather, can be quite helpful in reducing the irritation over the prominent bunion. In some instances, it is helpful to have a shoemaker stretch the inside aspect of the shoe. Jamming a foot with a bunion into a constrictive shoe will likely lead to the development of uncomfortable symptoms. Bunion pads, Medial bunion pads may also be helpful in decreasing the symptoms associated with the bunion. These pads can be obtained at many drugstores. Essentially, they serve to lessen the irritation over the medial prominence and, thereby, decrease the associated inflammation This should be combined with comfortable non-constrictive shoes. A toe spacer placed between the great toe and the second toe can help to reduce the bunion deformity and, thereby, decrease the stretch on the medial tissue and the irritation associated with the bunion. Toe spacers can be obtained at most drug stores or online. Soft shoe inserts. Over-the-counter accommodative orthotics may also help bunion symptoms. This product is particularly helpful if bunion symptoms include pain that is under the ball of the foot. Orthotics with a slight medial longitudinal arch may be helpful for patients that have associated flatfoot deformity. These can be purchased at many sports stores, outdoors stores, or pharmacies. Bunion splints have often been used to treat the symptoms associated with hallux valgus. These splints are typically worn at night in an effort to reduce the bunion deformity. There is no evidence to suggest that these splints decrease the rate at which bunion deformities occur. There is also no evidence that clearly supports their effectiveness. However, some patients report good relief with the use of these splints.
Bunion surgery can be performed under local or general anaesthetic. The operation usually takes between half an hour to an hour. There are several types of bunionectomies. Some involve removal and realignment of the bones in your foot. Mild bunion problems can sometimes be resolved using soft tissue release or tightening. For some very severe cases bones of the big toe are fused or the bunion is cut out along with some of the bone at the base of the toe. Be sure and discuss which type of operation you will have with your surgeon. With any type of bunionectomy your surgeon will make one or more incisions (cuts) near your big toe. They will use instruments to trim the bones and remove the bunion. Wire, screws or plates may also be used to hold the new joint in place.