A bunion is a prominence over the inside part of the foot where the big toe joins the rest of the foot. Pressure on the prominence from shoes causes pain and swelling due to inflammation. The bunion occurs when the foot bone connecting to the big toe (the first metatarsal) moves gradually towards the opposite foot. This is called hallux valgus deformity. This leads to the big toe being pushed towards the second toe (away from the opposite foot) so that the big toe points away from the other foot. Other problems can develop with a bunion. For example the second toe may overlap the big toe causing a cross-over toe deformity. With shoe pressure, corns and calluses develop.
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.
SymptomsThe most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain on the side of the foot just behind the great toe. A red painful bump is usually present. Pain is usually brought on with walking or sports. Shoes don't cause bunions but will typically aggravate them. Stiff leather shoes or shoes with a tapered toe box are the prime offenders. This is why bunion pain is most common in women whose shoes have a pointed toe box. The bunion site will often be slightly swollen and red from the constant rubbing and irritation of a shoe. Occasionally, corns can develop between the 1st and 2nd toe from the pressure the toes rubbing against each other.
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
Wearing good footwear does not cure the deformity but may ease symptoms of pain and discomfort. Ideally, get footwear advice from a person qualified to diagnose and treat foot disorders (podiatrist - previously called a chiropodist). Advice may include wear shoes, trainers or slippers that fit well and are roomy. Don't wear high-heeled, pointed or tight shoes. You might find that shoes with laces or straps are best, as they can be adjusted to the width of your foot. Padding over the bunion may help, as may ice packs. Devices which help to straighten the toe (orthoses) are still occasionally recommended, although trials investigating their use have not found them much better than no treatment at all. Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may ease any pain. If the bunion (hallux valgus) develops as part of an arthritis then other medication may be advised. A course of antibiotics may be needed if the skin and tissues over the deformity become infected.
Arthrodesis involves fusing together two bones in your big toe joint (metatarsophalangeal joint). The procedure is usually only recommended for people with severe deformities of the big toe joint, which make it too difficult for doctors to completely fix the joint, or when there's advanced degeneration of the joint. After arthrodesis, the movement of your big toe will be severely limited and you won't be able to wear high heels. An excision arthroplasty involves removing the bunion and the toe joint. A false joint is created by scar tissue that forms as a result of the operation. The procedure involves pinning the joint in place with wires, which will be removed around three weeks after surgery is carried out. An excision arthroplasty can only be used in certain circumstances, and is usually reserved for severe, troublesome bunions in elderly people.
If you are genetically at risk, not a lot. But shoes that are too narrow, too tight (even ballet flats) or have very high heels that force your toes down into the pointed end are asking for trouble. Aim for a 1cm gap between your toes and the end of your shoes. This doesn?t mean wearing frumpy flatties, the Society of Podiatrists and Chiropodists recommends sticking to 4cm heels for everyday wear, and wearing different types of shoe to vary the position of your foot. Gladiator styles can help because the straps stop your foot pushing down into the point of the shoe, ditto Mary Janes (sorry but for beautiful feet they need to have a strap), and flat, wide-fitting brogues are a no-brainer. Alternatively, in summer you can wear flip-flops to keep the space between your big and second toe as wide as possible. If you have children it?s vital to make sure that their feet are measured for properly fitting shoes to nip any potential problems in the bud. Keeping your feet and lower legs supple and strong is important too, that?s how A-list celebs get away with wearing killer heels, they all work-out like crazy. Exercises like trying to widen the space between your big toe and the second one with your foot flat on the floor, a few times a day can help, as can calf stretches. If you are devoted to any exercise that involves high impact for your feet, it might be worth checking that your gait and shoes are correct with a specialist shop such as Runners Need, as poor styles can cause irreparable bunion-related problems that will consign your trainers to the back of the cupboard for ever.