Bunions are bony bumps that form on the side of the big toe joint or baby toe joint (these are commonly called ?bunionettes? or ?tailor?s bunions?). Bunions most commonly result from one or more of the following factors: genetics, faulty foot mechanics like over-pronation, and/or long periods of time spent in improperly fitting footwear. Bunions can start with audible clicking (called ?crepitus?) and/or stiffness in the affected joint which indicates that the joint surfaces are rubbing together improperly. This may progress to include inflammation, degeneration of the surfaces of the joint, deformity (including bone growth at the joint line and displacement of the toe) and ultimately, loss of range of motion in the joint.
Women are particularly at risk for bunions, as high heels may help aggravate the condition. Bunions may also be caused when bursal sacs, sacs that absorb friction and lubricate the many tendons, bones muscles of the body, in the foot become inflamed or swollen. Bunions may also be prompted by the metatarsal bone, the bone that runs from the heel to the toe of the foot, with one metatarsal bone leading to each toe, of the big toe enlarging or deviating slightly to the outside of the foot.
Bunions 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
The initial treatment of a bunion should be non-operative. Symptoms can often be greatly improved with simple non-operative interventions. Non-operative treatment may include properly fitted shoes, Properly fitting comfort shoes with a wide non-constrictive toe box, especially one that is made out of a soft material such as leather, can be quite helpful in reducing the irritation over the prominent bunion. In some instances, it is helpful to have a shoemaker stretch the inside aspect of the shoe. Jamming a foot with a bunion into a constrictive shoe will likely lead to the development of uncomfortable symptoms. Bunion pads, Medial bunion pads may also be helpful in decreasing the symptoms associated with the bunion. These pads can be obtained at many drugstores. Essentially, they serve to lessen the irritation over the medial prominence and, thereby, decrease the associated inflammation This should be combined with comfortable non-constrictive shoes. A toe spacer placed between the great toe and the second toe can help to reduce the bunion deformity and, thereby, decrease the stretch on the medial tissue and the irritation associated with the bunion. Toe spacers can be obtained at most drug stores or online. Soft shoe inserts. Over-the-counter accommodative orthotics may also help bunion symptoms. This product is particularly helpful if bunion symptoms include pain that is under the ball of the foot. Orthotics with a slight medial longitudinal arch may be helpful for patients that have associated flatfoot deformity. These can be purchased at many sports stores, outdoors stores, or pharmacies. Bunion splints have often been used to treat the symptoms associated with hallux valgus. These splints are typically worn at night in an effort to reduce the bunion deformity. There is no evidence to suggest that these splints decrease the rate at which bunion deformities occur. There is also no evidence that clearly supports their effectiveness. However, some patients report good relief with the use of these splints.
Bunions can cause pain and difficulty wearing certain shoes. When simple treatments don't relieve your symptoms, surgery may be considered for treatment of the bunion. What are the signs that surgery may be the right treatment for your bunion? In general, surgery is recommended only when pain from the bunion prevents a patient from wearing normal shoes. There is a common misconception that surgical treatments for a bunion are better and quicker than non-surgical treatments. Unfortunately, patients who rush into surgery may have unrealistic expectations, and may be unsatisfied with surgery.
Because bunions develop slowly, taking care of your feet during childhood and early adulthood can pay off later in life. Keep track of the shape of your feet as they develop over time, especially if foot problems run in your family. Exercising your feet can strengthen them. Learn to pick up small objects, like a pencil or pebble, with your toes. Wear shoes that fit properly and don't cramp or pinch your toes. Women should avoid shoes with very high heels or pointed toes.