Bunions (hallux valgus) are often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. But a bunion is more than that. The visible bump actually reflects changes in the bony framework of the front part of the foot. With a bunion, the big toe leans toward the second toe, rather than pointing straight ahead. This throws the bones out of alignment, producing the bunion’s “bump.” Bunions are a progressive disorder. They begin with a leaning of the big toe, gradually changing the angle of the bones over the years and slowly producing the characteristic bump, which continues to become increasingly prominent. Bunions can be painful, but not always. Bunions are always progressive, so the deformity becomes more prounced over time, even if its not painful.
You may get bunions if the way your foot is shaped puts too much pressure on your big toe joint. Because bunions can run in families, some experts believe that the inherited shape of the foot makes some people more likely to get them. Your foot rolls inward too much when you walk. A moderate amount of inward roll, or pronation, is normal. But damage and injury can happen with too much pronation. You have flat feet. You often wear shoes that are too tight. All of these may put pressure on the big toe joint. Over time, the constant pressure forces the big toe out of alignment, bending it toward the other toes.
SymptomsThe 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.
A doctor can very often diagnose a bunion by looking at it. A foot x-ray can show an abnormal angle between the big toe and the foot. In some cases, arthritis may also be seen.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatments for bunions may include wearing shoes that fit and that have adequate toe room. Stretching shoes professionally to make them larger. Putting bunion pads over the bunion to cushion the pain. Avoiding activities that cause pain, such as being on your feet for long periods of time. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers when necessary, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen. Using ice to provide relief from inflammation and pain. Using custom-made orthotic devices.
If conservative treatment doesn’t provide relief from your symptoms, you may need surgery. The goal of bunion surgery is to relieve discomfort by returning your toe to the correct position. There are a number of surgical procedures for bunions, and no one technique is best for every problem. Surgical procedures for bunions might involve removing the swollen tissue from around your big toe joint. Straightening your big toe by removing part of the bone. Realigning the long bone between the back part of your foot and your big toe, to straighten out the abnormal angle in your big toe joint. Joining the bones of your affected joint permanently. It’s possible you may be able to walk on your foot immediately after a bunion procedure. However, full recovery can take weeks to months. To prevent a recurrence, you’ll need to wear proper shoes after recovery. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to wear narrower shoes after surgery. Surgery isn’t recommended unless a bunion causes you frequent pain or interferes with your daily activities. Talk to your doctor about what you can expect after bunion surgery.