Bunions are a common problem that most people experience as a bony protuberance at the base of the big toe. A bunion, however, is more complicated than simply a bump on the foot. When a patient has a bunion, the big toe angles in towards the other toes, a condition called hallux valgus. Bunions are most common in women. The skin over your big toe may be red and tender. Wearing any type of shoe may be painful. This joint flexes with every step you take. Your big toe may angle toward your second toe, or even move all the way under it. The skin on the bottom of your foot may become thicker and painful. Pressure from your big toe may force your second toe out of alignment, sometimes overlapping your third toe. If this condition gets severe, it may be difficult to walk. Your pain may become chronic and you may develop arthritis. Bunions tend to get progressively worse over time without treatment.
No single cause or set of causes for bunions has been identified, although gender-women develop them more frequently than men-and heredity play a role. In addition, the foot gradually widens with age as the ligaments that connect the bones in the forefoot become more lax. Contrary to what many people believe, ill-fitting footwear is not the cause of bunions. In fact, bunions are found in populations all over the world, including among those who never wear shoes. Shoes that are too tight can, however, contribute to the progression of the condition. Bunions are often bilateral, that is, appearing in both feet. Although bunions are usually seen in people who are middle-aged or older, there are adolescents who are diagnosed with the condition, usually the result of a congenital problem.
No matter what stage your bunion is in, you can be in pain. Though bunions take years to develop, you can experience pain at any stage. Some people don?t have bunion pain at all. Pain from a bunion can be severe enough to keep you from walking comfortably in normal shoes. The skin and deeper tissue around the bunion also may become swollen or inflamed.
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
Wide toe box, bunion pads, orthotics, or a combination. Mild discomfort may lessen by wearing a shoe with a wide toe box or with stretchable material. If not, bunion pads purchased in most pharmacies can shield the painful area. Orthotics can also be prescribed to redistribute and relieve pressure from the affected articulation. If conservative therapy fails, surgery aimed at correcting abnormal bony alignments and restoring joint mobility should be considered. If the patient is unwilling to wear large, wider shoes to accommodate the bunion because they are unattractive, surgery can be considered; however, patients should be told that orthotic devices should be worn after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. For bursitis, bursal aspiration and injection of a corticosteroid are indicated. For osteoarthritic synovitis, oral NSAIDs or an intra-articular injection of a corticosteroid/anesthetic solution reduces symptoms. For hallux limitus or hallux rigidus, treatment aims to preserve joint mobility by using passive stretching exercises, which occasionally require injection of a local anesthetic to relieve muscle spasm. Sometimes surgical release of contractures is necessary.
Pain is the commonest indication for bunion surgery. You may also notice redness and inflammation and usually this means that the bunion has progressed to a point that it will not respond to simple modification in shoe wear. Eventually that major joint of the big toe will become stiff and this makes it difficult for activities such as climbing stairs and sports.
To help prevent bunions, select your style and size of shoes wisely. Choose shoes with a wide toe area and a half-inch of space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Shoes also should conform to the shape of your feet without causing too much pressure.