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.
Causes of bunions are foot injuries, neuromuscular disorders, or congenital deformities. People who suffer from flat feet or low arches are also prone to developing these problems, as are arthritic patients and those with inflammatory joint disease. Occupations that place undue stress on the feet are also a factor; ballet dancers, for instance, often develop the condition. Wearing shoes that are too tight or cause the toes to be squeezed together is also a common factor, one that explains the high prevalence of the disorder among women.
With the positional change of the hallux, pain is a common occurrence. As the foot goes through the gait cycle the hallux plays an integral role as the body's weight transmits through during propulsion. With this in mind, it easy to see how the change in the hallux joints (metatarsal phalangeal joint and the proximal interphalangeal) would cause joint narrowing and early degeneration of the articular cartilage. In addition, two small bones (ossicles) found underneath just behind the joint will start placing extra pressure on the metatarsal. Along with bony changes, there are many soft tissue changes as the hallux and metatarsal reposition, which causes added strain to other bony structures and can accelerate the problem.
Your family doctor or chiropodist /podiatrist can identify a bunion simply by examining your foot. During the exam, your big toe will be moved up and down to determine if your range of motion is limited. You will be examined for signs of redness or swelling and be questioned about your history of pain. A foot x-ray can show an abnormal angle between the big toe and the foot. In some cases, arthritis may also be seen. A X-ray of your foot may help identify the cause of the bunion and rate its severity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Except in severe cases, treatment for bunions is usually given to first relieve the pain and pressure, and then to stop the bunion from growing. Conservative treatment for bunions may include protective padding, typically with felt material, to prevent friction and reduce inflammation. Removing corns and calluses, which contribute to irritation. Precisely fitted footwear that?s designed to accommodate the existing bunion. Orthotic devices to stabilize the joint and correctly position the foot for walking and standing. Exercises to prevent stiffness and encourage joint mobility. Nighttime splints that help align the toes and joint properly. In some cases, conservative treatment might not be able to prevent further damage. This depends on the size of the bunion, the degree of misalignment, and the amount of pain experienced. Bunion surgery, called a bunionectomy, may be recommended in severe cases. This surgery removes the bunion and realigns the toe.
Surgery can be a very successful treatment for bunions and could be considered if you are having pain that is affecting your function on a regular basis, for instance, pain during sports or wearing work shoes. It is important, however, that you are seen by a consultant orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon who has undergone specialist training with a foot and ankle fellowship. There are many different surgical techniques and it is important that your surgeon is expert in several of these so that you have the one that is best for your unique deformity. Bunion removal is usually done under general anesthesia. This means you will be asleep throughout the procedure. The operation can be performed as a day-case, but an overnight stay in hospital is sometimes required. Your surgeon will explain the benefits and risks of having bunion surgery, and will also discuss the alternatives treatments.
The simplest way to reduce your chance of developing foot bunion or bunionette problems is to wear good-fitting shoes. Avoid high heels as they push your feet forwards to the front of the shoe where they get squashed. Also avoid narrow fitting shoes, especially those that are pointed at the front with a narrow toe box as again, these place pressure through the toes pushing them inwards. Shoes should be comfortable and leave enough room for you to wiggle your toes. Remember, bunions rarely affect non-shoe wearing people. Exercising your feet can also help. By strengthening the foot muscles you can improve your foot position which can help reduce foot bunion problems. Simple exercises like picking up small objects with your toes can help.