Bunions are common but they can be misdiagnosed. We sometimes assume that any lump at the bottom of the big toe is a bunion. But as the Latin name (hallux valgus) suggests, the hallmark of a bunion is what happens to the toe itself (the hallux) rather than to the joint at its base. In bunions, the toe veers off in a valgus direction, that is, away from the midline. An outcrop of extra bone, or osteophyte, develops as the body tries to protect the exposed surface of the warped first metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP); a fluid-filled sac, or bursa, may also form, which often becomes inflamed. Foot experts are still not entirely agreed about what causes bunions. Genetics and lax ligaments are both implicated; the role of footwear is less clear. All bunion conversations seem to involve someone stating that barefoot tribes people don?t get bunions. This is not true.
The exact cause of bunions is unknown, but they tend to run in families. Wearing badly fitting shoes is thought to make bunions worse. It’s also thought that bunions are more likely to occur in people with unusually flexible joints, which is why bunions sometimes occur in children. In some cases, certain health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, may also be responsible.
SymptomsBunions are readily apparent, you can see the prominence at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate your condition, the Podiatrist may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformity and assess the changes that have occurred. Because bunions are progressive, they don’t go away, and will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike, some bunions progress more rapidly than others. There is no clear-cut way to predict how fast a bunion will get worse. The severity of the bunion and the symptoms you have will help determine what treatment is recommended for you.
Your doctor is very likely to be able to diagnose your bunion simply by examining your foot. Even before that, he or she will probably ask about your family and personal medical history and evaluate the types of shoes you wear. You’ll be asked about your symptoms, when they started and when they occur. You may also be asked to flex your toe so that your doctor can get an idea of your range of motion. He or she may order x-rays in order to determine the extent of your deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of hallux valgus nearly always starts with adapting shoe wear to fit the foot. In the early stages of hallux valgus, converting from a shoe with a pointed toe to a shoe with a wide forefoot (or toe box) may arrest the progression of the deformity. Since the pain that arises from the bunion is due to pressure from the shoe, treatment focuses on removing the pressure that the shoe exerts on the deformity. Wider shoes reduce the pressure on the bunion. Bunion pads may reduce pressure and rubbing from the shoe. There are also numerous devices, such as toe spacers, that attempt to splint the big toe and reverse the deforming forces.
There are many different procedures described to correct bunions. You should be aware that usually just shaving the bunion off, although it is attractive and minimally invasive, is usually not enough. Initially the foot will look much better but with time the bunion will recur. Arthrodesis refers to surgery performed on the great toe joint where the joint is fused. This is usually reserved for people with very severe deformities when other surgical options are impossible. Bunionectomy refers to the simple removal of the bunion itself. This is seldom used because it doesn?t correct the underlying bone problems. Osteomety is the commonest surgical procedure. The bone is cut and the bones realigned and pinned in place until they heal so that the underlying bone deformity is corrected and the bunion will not recur. The resection arstplasty refers to the removal of the toe joint and this creates a flexible scar that functions as the joint instead. In the past there has been some interest in implanting artificial joints but this has fallen out of favor due to the fact that they usually do not hold up with the normal every day stress that people put their feet through.