A bunion is a bony lump on the side of your foot, which develops when your big toe starts to angle towards your second toe. The bunion will eventually cause you discomfort and pain. The skin over the lump can become red, blistered or infected. A fluid-filled space called a bursa may also develop under your skin in this area and this can be painful if it becomes inflamed. This is called bursitis. The deformity of your big toe combined with a bunion is sometimes referred to as hallux valgus.
The most common cause of bunions is poor footwear. Poorly fitted shoes, high heeled shoes or shoes with a narrow toe area can all cause bunions or make bunions worse. Bunions can be hereditary and they can be associated with poor foot biomechanics such as overpronation or flat feet. Rheumatoid arthritis or some diseases of the nervous system can also cause bunions.
Patients with bunions will often display pain over the prominent bump on the inside of their forefoot (the medial eminence?). However, they may also have pain under the ball of the foot (under the area near the base of the second toe). Symptoms can vary in severity from none at all to severe discomfort aggravated by standing and walking. There is no direct correlation between the size of the bunion and the patient?s symptoms. Some patients with severe bunion deformities have minimal symptoms, while patients with mild bunion deformities may have significant symptoms. Symptoms are often exacerbated by restrictive shoe wear, particularly shoes with a narrow toe box or an uncomfortable, stiff, restraining upper.
X-rays are the best way to determine the amount of deformity of the MTP joint. Blood work may be required to rule out other diseases that may be associated with bunions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Other tests such as bone scans or MRI's are not usually required.
Non Surgical Treatment
Somtimes observation of the bunion is all that?s needed. A periodic exam and x-ray can determine if your bunion deformity is advancing. Measures can then be taken to reduce the possibility of permanent damage to your joint. In many cases, however, some type of treatment is needed. Conservative treatments may help reduce the pain of a bunion. These options include changes in shoe-wear. Wearing the right kind of shoes is very important. Choose shoes with a large toe box and avoid narrow high heeled shoes which may aggravate the condition. Padding. Pads can be placed over the area to reduce shoe pressure. Medication. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may help reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Injection therapy. Injection of steroid medication may be used to treat inflammation that causes pain and swelling especially if a fluid filled sac has developed about the joint. Orthotic shoe inserts. By controlling the faulty mechanical forces the foot may be stabilized so that the bunion becomes asymptomatic.
Research shows that 85% of people who have bunion corrections are satisfied with the results. However, a number of problems can arise. The big toe is usually stiffer than before. For most people this does not matter, but for athletes or dancers it is very important. As mentioned before, the big toe is slightly weaker with a bunion, and this transfers weight onto the ball of the foot. After bunion surgery, this transfer of weight can increase. Therefore, if you have pain under the ball of the foot ("metatarsalgia") it may be worse after bunion surgery, and it may also develop for the first time. Careful surgical technique can reduce this risk, but it cannot avoid it completely. Most people who develop metatarsalgia are comfortable with a simple insole in the shoe but occasionally surgery is required. In some people the big toe slowly tilts back toward the original position and occasionally this is bad enough to need to have the operation redone. On the other hand, the toe can tilt the other way, though much more rarely. Again, occasionally this is bad enough to need to have the operation redone. Infections in the wound, plaster problems and minor damage to the nerves of the toe can occur in any foot surgery. Usually these are minor problems that get better quickly. This may sound like a lot of possible problems, but in fact most people do not get them and are satisfied with their bunion surgery. However, this may help you to see how important it is to have any bunion surgery carried out by a properly trained and experienced foot and ankle surgeon.
The best protection against developing bunions is to protect and care for your feet every day. Avoid tight and narrow-fitting shoes. Limit your use of high heels. Wear comfortable shoes with adequate space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Getting treatment for very flat or very high-arched feet (if you are experiencing symptoms) will give your feet the proper support and help maintain stability and balance.