A bunion is a painful deformity of the joint where the bones of the foot and the big toe meet. The enlargement of the bone and tissue around this joint is known as a bunion or hallux valgus. Symptoms of a bunion include a swollen bursal sac, a bony deformity on the side of the great toe joint, tender and swollen tissues surrounding the deformity, and displacement of the big toe, which may turn inward.
What causes bunions? This question is often answered by blaming shoes. But in fact, shoes only play a small role in developing bunions. Yes, shoes, especially high heels cause abnormal squeezing of your forefoot. This in turn to help promote a bunion. But if everyone who wore high heels shoes had a bunion, there would be a lot more then the 15% prevalence we see in the general population. As you can see from the flow chart, genetics plays the major role in development of bunion deformities. Genetics determines the way your foot functions. Are you flatfooted? Are your joints flexible or stiff? Do you have a high arch? Do you have tight muscles? These traits are determined by your genetic code. These characteristics then govern how your bones and joints move when you walk. As an example, if your joints are very flexible, this can cause an abnormal amount of instability in your forefoot when you walk. Over time, this abnormal motion will cause the a bunion to develop by allowing your first metatarsal to "drift" towards the mid-line of your body.
The 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.
Before examining your foot, the doctor will ask you about the types of shoes you wear and how often you wear them. He or she also will ask if anyone else in your family has had bunions or if you have had any previous injury to the foot. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose a bunion just by examining your foot. During this exam, you will be asked to move your big toe up and down to see if you can move it as much as you should be able to. The doctor also will look for signs of redness and swelling and ask if the area is painful. Your doctor may want to order X-rays of the foot to check for other causes of pain, to determine whether there is significant arthritis and to see if the bones are aligned properly.
Non Surgical Treatment
Initial treatment of bunions may include wearing comfortable, well-fitting footwear (particularly shoes that conform to the shape of the foot and do not cause pressure areas) or the use of splints and orthotics (special shoe inserts shaped to your feet) to reposition the big toe. For bunions caused by arthritis, medications may help reduce pain and swelling. If nonsurgical treatment fails, your doctor may suggest surgery, which resolves the problem in nearly all persons. The goal of surgery is to relieve pain and correct as much deformity as possible. The surgery is not cosmetic and is not meant to improve the appearance of the foot. Other related procedures that may be used to help diagnose foot disorders include X-rays of the bone and foot.
Larger bunions often require the surgeon to move the entire bone over (1st metatarsal). This is accomplished by a cut or fusion at the bottom of the bone. The former technique, is called the Lapidus bunionectomy. Additionally, the repositioned bone is held in place with one or two surgical screws.
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.