A bunion is a deformity of the big toe. A bunion is a toe that points at a sideways angle towards your second toe. There is also a characteristic bump on the inner side of the foot. As the bunion becomes more prominent, bunion pain can develop. The medical term for a foot bunion is hallux valgus.
While there isn?t really one exact cause of bunions, podiatric physicians tend to agree that a bunion is formed when the normal mechanics of the foot are disrupted. This can happen in any number of ways. Abnormality in foot function or foot mechanics. In general, this means a pronated foot (one with an excessive rolling to the outside when the patient is walking, running or doing any kind of activity), a flat foot or low-arched foot. This is probably the most common cause, and it?s where the idea of heredity comes into play. Foot mechanics, and problems with them, tend to run in families. The good news is that there are orthoses and corrective shoes that can effectively alleviate these and other disturbances to foot mechanics, before they contribute to bunions. A podiatric physician can prescribe the best corrective footwear and shoe inserts for all activities, work, exercise, play, walking, shopping and more, based on an analysis of the patient?s foot and his or her lifestyle.
Bunions typically start out as a mild bump or outward bending of the big toe. Bunions at this stage are usually only a concern of appearance at this stage, and at this point they often don't hurt much. Over time, the ligaments that connect the bones of the toe stretch out, and the tendons attaching to the big toe gradually pull it farther and farther towards the second toe. Sometimes patients will find their first and second toes begin to press together too much, and they'll often get a painful corn between those toes. As the bunion progresses, the big toe may begin to ride on top of the second toe, or vice versa, creating a second deformity. Others will develop bump pain at the site of the bony enlargement on the side of the foot. A painful bursa may develop at that site. This is particularly true in tight shoes. Many patients also develop a painful callus beneath the foot. Capsulitis and other types of metatarsalgia may develop in the joints beneath these calluses, particularly in the second and third metatarsophalangeal joints (the joints in the ball of the foot). Over time, with the toe held in a crooked position for enough time, arthritis develops in the big toe joint. This will usually result in decreased range of motion of that joint (a condition known as "Hallux Limitis"), which as a result, often causes the patient to changes in the way a patient walks. Often the patient walks in an "out-toed", or duck-like, fashion, which very frequently causes secondary pain in the legs, knee, hip, and low back.
The doctor considers a bunion as a possible diagnosis when noting the symptoms described above. The anatomy of the foot, including joint and foot function, is assessed during the examination. Radiographs (X-ray films) of the foot can be helpful to determine the integrity of the joints of the foot and to screen for underlying conditions, such as arthritis or gout. X-ray films are an excellent method of calculating the alignment of the toes when taken in a standing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
Wear comfortable shoes that don't squeeze your toes together. Sandals are ideal in warm weather. Cushioning the bunion with a donut-shaped bunion pad sold at drugstores can prevent any direct rubbing against your shoes. Have your shoes stretched to give your foot more room or consider switching to footwear customized to relieve pressure on the affected area. Soak your foot in warm water to help lessen the pain after a day on your feet. Apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling of painful and inflamed bunions. Take aspirin or ibuprofen for the inflammation and pain, and try supplementing with anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger and turmeric (these work more slowly than the drugs). See a podiatrist for specially fitted shoes or orthotic devices that may help. Sometimes, surgery is necessary. Seek a second opinion before scheduling any operation.
If all nonsurgical measures fail to control the symptoms, then surgery may be suggested to treat the hallux valgus condition. Well over 100 surgical procedures exist to treat hallux valgus. The basic considerations in performing any surgical procedure for hallux valgus are to remove the bunion, to realign the bones that make up the big toe, to balance the muscles around the joint so the deformity does not return.
The best way to prevent a bunion is to be proactive in the truest sense of the word. Go over your risk factors. If you know that you pronate or have any problem with the mechanics of your foot, talk with a podiatric physician about the correct types of shoes and/or orthoses for you. If you are not sure whether you have such a problem, the podiatric professional can analyze your foot, your stride and the wear pattern of your shoes, and give you an honest evaluation. Has anyone in your family complained of bunions? Does your job involve a lot of standing, walking or other stress on your feet or toes? Do you exercise? If so, what kind of shoes do you wear for sports? For work? For school? Do you ever feel pain in your toes, or have you noticed a pronounced or increased redness on your big toe, or on the other side of your foot, near your little toe? Make sure you let the doctor know. Keep track of whether any relatives have suffered from arthritis or other joint problems, as well as anything else that might be relevant to your podiatric health. If you?ve suffered sports injuries previously, let the doctor know about that, too. In other words, try to give your health care professional the most honest and thorough background you can, so that he or she can make the best evaluation possible.