When the big toe is misaligned, it creates an unnatural bump on the inside of the forefoot (see image below). In addition to being unsightly, the lump or bunion can cause pain and make buying shoes difficult. Some people are born predisposed to bunions. But most people acquire them over time from ill-fitting footwear that squeezes the big toe inward toward the other toes. About four out of five bunion pain patients are female, a near perfect fit for the bad shoe theory. The good news, Bunions can be corrected, often with better-fitting shoes and custom orthotics. There are also some cases that cause severe bunion pain and do not respond to conservative treatment. For those patients, bunion surgery called bunionectomy may be necessary.
Bunions are among the most common problems of the foot. They are several possible reasons a bunion may develop, though a biomechanical abnormality (improper function of the foot) is the most common cause. In an unstable flat foot, for example, a muscular imbalance often develops that, over time, causes bunions. Bunions tend to run in families, and most podiatrists believe that genetic factors play a role in predisposing some people to develop bunions. Poor shoes, like high heels and pointed toe boxes--exacerbate the condition by speeding up the development of bunions, and by making bunions more painful. Poor shoe choices is at least one of the reasons bunions are much more common in women than men.
The symptoms of bunions include irritated skin around the bunion, pain when walking, joint redness and pain, and possible shift of the big toe toward the other toes. Blisters may form more easily around the site of the bunion as well. Having bunions can also make it more difficult to find shoes that fit properly; bunions may force a person to have to buy a larger size shoe to accommodate the width the bunion creates. When bunion deformity becomes severe enough, the foot can hurt in different places even without the constriction of shoes because it then becomes a mechanical function problem of the forefoot.
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
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.
The main goal of surgery is to realign the big toe joint in order to relieve symptoms, correct deformity and restore function. Surgery to remove a bunion is known as a bunionectomy. There are many variations of this operation and the type of surgery performed will vary depending on factors such as the degree of deformity, the strength of the bones, the person's age and the surgeon?s preferred approach. Most surgery involves the removal of the bony outgrowth (exostosis) and the realignment of the bones of the joint. Soft tissue structures such as the ligaments and tendons may be repositioned and the bursa may be removed. The insertion of screws and pins may be required to stabilise the bones in their new, realigned position.