A bunion, or Hallux Valgus, is a foot deformity characterised by deviation of the bones around the big toe joint of the foot. As a result, there is a large exostosis or bony lump on the inside of the foot and the toe is pointed across towards the smaller toes. It is a common problem, more so in women and has been attributed to tight fitting footwear. This article will cover the basics of bunions, what it is due to, and what treatment is available.
Bunions are among the most common problems of the foot. They are several possible reasons a bunion may develop, though a biomechanical abnormality (improper function of the foot) is the most common cause. In an unstable flat foot, for example, a muscular imbalance often develops that, over time, causes bunions. Bunions tend to run in families, and most podiatrists believe that genetic factors play a role in predisposing some people to develop bunions. Poor shoes, like high heels and pointed toe boxes--exacerbate the condition by speeding up the development of bunions, and by making bunions more painful. Poor shoe choices is at least one of the reasons bunions are much more common in women than men.
The pain from a bunion is felt around the MTP joint of the big toe. People with bunions often complain of pain when they when they stand or walk for long periods of time. High heeled shoes or shoes with a small toe area can make bunions feel and look worse. As a result of the deformity the big toe can lose some of its range of motion or become stiff. Sometimes both feet are affected.
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
Several things can be done to help relive the pain of bunions. These won't make the bunion go away, but they can make the foot more comfortable. Wearing different shoes. Shoes with a wide toe box rather than a pointed one will help. Shoes with lower heels will also help. (High heels throw more of the body's weight on the front part of the foot where the toe joints are.) Padding. Pads placed over the bunion may help reduce the pain. These are available from a drug store or may be available from a foot and ankle surgeon. Avoiding activities that make the pain worse. This includes standing for a long time or other activities that make the bunion sore. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These include aspirin or ibuprofen. They relieve pain and swelling. Applying an ice pack to reduce swelling and pain. Corticosteroid injections. These are not often used in bunion treatment. Injecting corticosteroids sometimes helps if the bursa is inflamed. (Bursa is a fluid-filled sac within a joint to cushion the bones). Orthotic devices. These are devices placed inside a shoe that shift the positioning of the foot. Orthotics help compensate for structural issues that cause foot problems.
For patients who have arthritis of the big toe joint associated with a bunion deformity an osteotomy is not performed. The deformity is corrected through the joint either with a fusion of the joint or by removing a portion of the joint (an arthroplasty). Fusion of the big toe joint is an excellent operation since it corrects the deformity, prevents the bunion from returning and eliminates the arthritis simultaneously.