Bunions are one of the most common forefoot deformities. A displacement of the bone under the 1st toe occurs. This causes the big toe to move towards the smaller toes. This shifting of the bones causes a bony prominence on the side of the patients foot (the bunion joint). Over a period of time the big toe may come to rest under (occasionally over) the 2nd toe.
By far the most common cause of bunions is the prolonged wearing of poorly fitting shoes, usually shoes with a narrow, pointed toe box that squeezes the toes into an unnatural position. Bunions also may be caused by arthritis or polio. Heredity often plays a role in bunion formation. But these causes account for only a small percentage of bunions. A study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society found that 88 percent of women in the U.S. wear shoes that are too small and 55 percent have bunions. Not surprisingly, bunions are nine times more common in women than men.
Bunions may cause no pain at first. But as the big toe begins to turn in towards the other toes, people with bunions usually experience redness, pain, swelling, and tenderness in the area around the joint. Pressure inside the joint or from footwear pressing against the bunion may also cause discomfort. As the affected toe curves closer to the other toes on the foot, these toes can become painful as well. Complications of bunions include corns, calluses, hammer toe, and ingrown toenails. Other complications include irritation of the nerves surrounding the bunion area. Excess rubbing of the bunion against the footwear may lead to changes in the skin, resulting in corns or calluses. Hammer toe is a deformity of the toe immediately next to the big toe. A hammer toe is slightly raised and points upwards from the base and downwards at the end of the toe. Ingrown toenails can result from increased pressure from the big toe on the other toes. There may also be a decrease in the amount a person can move the joint affected by the bunion. Irritation of the nerves will feel like burning or decreased sensation.
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
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.
When these above measures no longer help to relieve the pain in the big toe, surgery to correct the bunion deformity is considered. Numerous surgical procedures have been recommended for bunions. What is most critical is that the type of deformity is carefully evaluated, because one bunion surgery cannot be used for all types of bunions. If the big toe joint is rotated out of place, the joint must be rotated back in place for the procedure to work. Conversely, a bunion can occur with the big toe still ?in place.? If surgery is considered, the bunion must be corrected with the toe joint left in its current position. In other words, one type of bunion repair does not work for everyone. In all types of bunion repairs, ligaments and tendons (soft tissues) around the big toe joint are reconstructed, to allow the toe to be straightened. Most bunion procedures also require cutting the metatarsal bone, which is then fixed with metal screws to hold the bone in position until it heals. It usually takes 2 to 4 months to fully recover from bunion surgery, which is why it is always the last course of treatment.