A bunion is a combination of an enlargement of the joint at the base and side of the big toe as well as the big toe being angled towards the rest of the toes (this angulation is known as Hallux Valgus). A bunion can lead to other foot deformities and problems such as a hammer toe of the second toe, corns and calluses as well as ingrown toenails. So if the pain isn't enough of a driving factor, the chance of developing these further complications should outline the importance and urgency of seeking treatment with a podiatrist.
What causes bunions? This question is often answered by blaming shoes. But in fact, shoes only play a small role in developing bunions. Yes, shoes, especially high heels cause abnormal squeezing of your forefoot. This in turn to help promote a bunion. But if everyone who wore high heels shoes had a bunion, there would be a lot more then the 15% prevalence we see in the general population. As you can see from the flow chart, genetics plays the major role in development of bunion deformities. Genetics determines the way your foot functions. Are you flatfooted? Are your joints flexible or stiff? Do you have a high arch? Do you have tight muscles? These traits are determined by your genetic code. These characteristics then govern how your bones and joints move when you walk. As an example, if your joints are very flexible, this can cause an abnormal amount of instability in your forefoot when you walk. Over time, this abnormal motion will cause the a bunion to develop by allowing your first metatarsal to "drift" towards the mid-line of your body.
The most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain on the side of the foot. Shoes will typically aggravate bunions. 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. On rare occasions, the joint itself can be acutely inflamed from the development of a sac of fluid over the bunion called a bursa. This is designed to protect and cushion the bone. However, it can become acutely inflamed, a condition referred to as bursitis.
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
Some bunions can be treated without surgery. If you have a bunion, wear shoes that are roomy enough so that they won?t put pressure on it. You can choose to have your shoes stretched out professionally or try cushioning the painful area with protective pads. Orthotics have been shown to help prevent progression of bunions. Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation. Applying an ice pack several times a day can also help reduce inflammation and pain. If your bunion progresses to a point where you have difficulty walking or experience pain even with accommodative shoes, surgery may be necessary.
Surgery might be recommended if non-surgical treatments fail to provide relief, and you are having trouble walking or are in extreme pain. Surgery can be used to return the big toe to its correct anatomical position. During surgery, bones, ligaments, tendons, and nerves are put back into correct order, and the bump is removed. Many bunion correction procedures can be done on a same-day basis. The type of procedure will depend on your physical health, the extent of the foot deformity, your age, and your activity level. The recovery time will depend on which procedure or procedures are performed. Surgery may be recommended to correct a tailor?s bunion, but is unlikely to be recommended for an adolescent bunion.
Make better shoe choices. If you?re a woman, avoid high-heeled footwear whenever possible (at the very least, choose shoes with heels lower than two inches), and make sure all your footwear has a wide, deep toe box. Whether man or woman, if you?re trying on shoes and your toes feel ?squished? or crowded by a particular shoe, reject that style and try another, or go for a larger size. You don?t need to invite trouble. In general, shoes that come to a point at the toe are bad news, as they tend to push the toes together into an overlapping pattern. Shoes with rocker soles will unload pressure on the bunion area. Examine your feet regularly. Note any redness, swelling or discoloration. Flex your toes and check for any stiffness. If there is any, think back to what you?ve worn or done in the past few days. If the condition persists more than a few days, or worsens, a visit to the podiatric physician is in order.