A bunion is a bony protrusion on the side of the big toe or in some less common cases on the outside of the small toe. The protrusion at the joint of the base of the toe can become irritated, swollen and painful. As the protrusion becomes larger the toe bends toward the second toe causing further sources of irritation. There appears to be multiple causes of a bunion. Genetically the foot may be shaped such that normal activity puts excessive pressure on the big toe eventually causing a bunion. Some suggest footwear that does not fit properly may also put excessive pressure and cause a bunion. The protrusion may be excessive bone structure or a fluid sac called the bursa that becomes inflamed. In any case the deformity of the toe makes it difficult to find proper fitting footwear, is not a pleasant sight, and can be very painful.
By far the most common cause of bunions is the prolonged wearing of poorly fitting shoes, usually shoes with a narrow, pointed toe box that squeezes the toes into an unnatural position. Bunions also may be caused by arthritis or polio. Heredity often plays a role in bunion formation. But these causes account for only a small percentage of bunions. A study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society found that 88 percent of women in the U.S. wear shoes that are too small and 55 percent have bunions. Not surprisingly, bunions are nine times more common in women than men.
A bulging bump on the outside of the base of your big toe. Swelling, redness or soreness around your big toe joint aggravated by footwear. Red, calloused skin along the inside edge of the big toe. Corns or calluses under the ball of the foot or where the first and second toes overlap. Persistent or intermittent pain. Restricted movement of your big toe.
Orthopaedic surgeons diagnose bunions on the basis of physical examination and weight bearing x-rays. Two angles are assessed, the intermetatarsal angle, that is between the first and second metatarsals (the bones that lead up to the base of the toes). If this angle exceeds 9? (the angle found in the healthy foot) it is abnormal and referred to as metatarsus primus varus. the hallux valgus angle, that is, the angle of the big toe as it drifts toward the small toe. An angle that exceeds 15? is considered to be a sign of pathology.
Non Surgical Treatment
A hinged flexible bunion splint, can relieve pain by providing corrective arch support and releasing tension away from the inflamed joint. Change shoes! Avoid flip flops, high-heels and shoes with pointed, narrow toe-boxes. Medicine will not prevent or cure bunions. However, the use of over the counter anti- inflammatory medications can help. Bunion splints, pads and arch supports can help redistribute weight and move pressure away from the big toe.
Bunion Surgery Is Not Cosmetic Surgery. Bunions may not be pretty, but cosmetic deformity is not a good reason to perform surgery. There are too many potential complications to perform a bunion surgery simply for cosmetic reasons. Patients Must Have Realistic Expectations. Bunion surgery can be helpful at relieving pain, but patients should not expect to have "normal" feet after surgery. In one study, a leading researcher on foot problems such as bunions, found that 1/3 of his patients could not wear the type of shoe they desired prior to surgery. The Foot Width Change Is Small. Bunion surgery decreases the width of the forefoot by about 1/8 of an inch. That's not much! That is the reason why even after surgery, most patients will not be wearing slender shoes. Surgery can be an excellent treatment option for patients with problems from their bunions. That said, patients must understand this is a procedure that has potential complications and a lengthy rehabilitation. The patients who tend to be unsatisfied with bunion surgery are those patients who are having surgery done to allow them to have normal looking feet or allow them to wear slim shoes. If that sounds like your motivation, think long and hard about surgery. Surgery should be reserved for those patients who have significant pain, and are unable to correct the problem with adaptive footwear.
Because bunions develop slowly, taking care of your feet during childhood and early adulthood can pay off later in life. Keep track of the shape of your feet as they develop over time, especially if foot problems run in your family. Exercising your feet can strengthen them. Learn to pick up small objects, like a pencil or pebble, with your toes. Wear shoes that fit properly and don't cramp or pinch your toes. Women should avoid shoes with very high heels or pointed toes.