Bunions are bony protrusions located at the base of the big toe that develop when the toe is slanted inward or overlaps the next toe. They can be very painful. Bunions form when the movement of the big toe influences the angle of the bones in the foot. The changes gradually develop into the characteristic bump, which over time becomes more and more noticeable.
The most common cause of bunions is poor footwear. Poorly fitted shoes, high heeled shoes or shoes with a narrow toe area can all cause bunions or make bunions worse. Bunions can be hereditary and they can be associated with poor foot biomechanics such as overpronation or flat feet. Rheumatoid arthritis or some diseases of the nervous system can also cause bunions.
SymptomsWhile bunions may be considered cosmetically undesirable, they are not necessarily painful. In cases where the individual has minor discomfort that can be eased by wearing wider shoes made of soft leather and/or with the aid of spacers-padding placed between the toes to correct alignment-further treatment may not be necessary. (Anti-inflammatory agents can be used to alleviate temporary discomfort at the site of the bursa.) For those who continue to experience pain on a daily basis and who cannot wear most types of shoe comfortably, surgical treatment may be the best choice.
Your doctor can identify a bunion by examining your foot. Watching your big toe as you move it up and down will help your doctor determine if your range of motion is limited. Your doctor will also look for redness or swelling. After the physical exam, an X-ray of your foot can help your doctor identify the cause of the bunion and rate its severity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Bunion pain can be successfully managed in the vast majority of cases by switching to shoes that fit properly and don't compress the toes. Your orthopaedic surgeon can give you more information about proper shoe fit and the types of shoes that would be best for you. Follow these general points of shoe fit. Do not select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe. Sizes vary among shoe brands and styles. Judge the shoe by how it fits on your foot. Select a shoe that conforms as nearly as possible to the shape of your foot. Have your feet measured regularly. The size of your feet change as you grow older. Have both feet measured. Most people have one foot larger than the other. Fit to the largest foot. Fit at the end of the day when your feet are the largest. Stand during the fitting process and check that there is adequate space (3/8" to 1/2") for your longest toe at the end of each shoe. Make sure the ball of your foot fits well into the widest part (ball pocket) of the shoe. Do not purchase shoes that feel too tight, expecting them to "stretch" to fit. Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slippage. Walk in the shoe to make sure it fits and feels right. (Fashionable shoes can be comfortable.) Some shoes can be modified by stretching the areas that put pressure on your toes. Splints to reposition the big toe and orthotics (special shoe inserts shaped to your feet) also may relieve pain. For bunions caused by arthritis, medications can be prescribed to reduce pain and swelling.
There is no "standard" bunion, but rather a complex range of joint, bone, muscle, tendon and ligament abnormalities that can cause variation in each bunion's make-up. As a result, there are a broad variety of surgical techniques for dealing with bunions. Most surgical procedures start with a simple bunionectomy, which involves excision of swollen tissues and removal of the enlarged boney structure. While this may remove the troublesome tissues, however, it may not correct other issues associated with the bunion. The surgeon may also need to tighten or loosen the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the MTP joint. Realign the bone by cutting it and shifting its position (a technique called osteotomy), realigning muscles, tendons and ligaments accordingly. Use screws, wires or plates to hold the joint surfaces together until they heal. Reconstruct a badly damaged joint or replace it with an artificial implant.