A bunion is the enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe. It occurs as a result of the misalignment of the bones of the big toe. This leads to stretching of the ligaments and tendons around the big toe joint and causes soft tissue over the joint to become inflamed and painful. There may be additional bone formation (exostosis) in the joint and the skin around the joint may become red and tender. Over time the cartilage in the joint can break down, leading to arthritis.
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.
SymptomsSymptoms, which occur at the site of the bunion, may include pain or soreness, inflammation and redness, a burning sensation, possible numbness. Symptoms occur most often when wearing shoes that crowd the toes, such as shoes with a tight toe box or high heels. This may explain why women are more likely to have symptoms than men. In addition, spending long periods of time on your feet can aggravate the symptoms of bunions.
Your doctor will be able to diagnose a bunion by asking about your symptoms and examining your feet. You may also have blood tests to rule out any other medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout, although this is rare. Your doctor may refer you to a podiatrist or chiropodist (healthcare professionals who specialise in conditions that affect the feet).
Non Surgical Treatment
This is probably the most important step. Wearing the right footwear can help reduce stress on a minor deformity and reduce the likelihood of it progressing. Recommendations are that the forefoot easily fits within the width of the shoe and there is adequate cushioning and arch support. Soft materials such as smooth leather, suede or fabric will also help to reduce irritation to the area. The podiatrist plays an invaluable role in managing patients with bunions. This is because they can offer a number of options to the patient that can help relieve pain and reduce the severity of the deformity. They can also reduce pressure on skin lesions that develop as a result of the biomechanical changes. Podiatrists can prescribe customised orthotic devices that help reduce the stress on a bunion and control biomechanical factors which cause them. These may be used in conjunction with bunion splints or cushions to further offload the area. Evidence has shown a significant reduction in pain with the use of customized orthotic devices.
Bunion surgery is most often a day case or one night in hospital. Surgery can be done under ankle block (patient awake) or general anaesthetic. It is best to rest with the foot elevated for the first 2 weeks after surgery. The foot is bandaged and a special sandal supplied by the hospital is worn for 6 weeks. Sensible shoes are to be worn for a further 6 weeks after the bandages are removed. It will take between 3-6 months for the swelling to go down. It will take 12 months before everything completely settles. It is also important to remember that not all bunion operations are entirely successful.
Shop for shoes that possess a removable liner, or insole, and stand on the liner after you have removed it from your shoe. This is an effective method to see if your shoe is wide enough in the forefoot to accommodate your bunion. If your bunion and forefoot are wider than the insole, your shoe will squeeze and constrict your bunion and create the symptoms that define this health problem. The insole should also be wide enough to fully accommodate your big toe when it points outward, away from your other toes.