A bunion is a deviation and inflammation of joint where the big toe connects to the 1st metatarsal, also known as the 1st MTP. The capsule of the joint is displaced, thickened and enlarged, and the cartilage of the joint is damaged. There are three degrees of bunions: mild, moderate and severe. It is important to know that bunions are not hereditary, although the tendency to overpronate, which is one of the main causes of bunions, has a hereditary component. Patients complain of pain in the joint and have a big toe that points away from the midline of the body. Often, they are only able to wear very wide shoes.
Bunions most commonly affect women. Some studies report that bunions occur nearly 10 times more frequently in women. It has been suggested that tight-fitting shoes, especially high-heel and narrow-toed shoes, might increase the risk for bunion formation. Bunions are reported to be more prevalent in people who wear shoes than in barefoot people. While the precise causes are not known, there also seems to be inherited (genetic) factors that predispose to the development of bunions, especially when they occur in younger individuals. Other risk factors for the development of bunions include abnormal formation of the bones of the foot at birth (congenital), nerve conditions that affect the foot, rheumatoid arthritis, and injury to the foot. Bunions are common in ballet dancers.
SymptomsThe most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain on the side of the foot. Shoes will typically aggravate bunions. Stiff leather shoes or shoes with a tapered toe box are the prime offenders. This is why bunion pain is most common in women whose shoes have a pointed toe box. The bunion site will often be slightly swollen and red from the constant rubbing and irritation of a shoe. Occasionally, corns can develop between the 1st and 2nd toe from the pressure the toes rubbing against each other. On rare occasions, the joint itself can be acutely inflamed from the development of a sac of fluid over the bunion called a bursa. This is designed to protect and cushion the bone. However, it can become acutely inflamed, a condition referred to as bursitis.
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
Except in severe cases, treatment for bunions is usually given to first relieve the pain and pressure, and then to stop the bunion from growing. Conservative treatment for bunions may include protective padding, typically with felt material, to prevent friction and reduce inflammation. Removing corns and calluses, which contribute to irritation. Precisely fitted footwear that?s designed to accommodate the existing bunion. Orthotic devices to stabilize the joint and correctly position the foot for walking and standing. Exercises to prevent stiffness and encourage joint mobility. Nighttime splints that help align the toes and joint properly. In some cases, conservative treatment might not be able to prevent further damage. This depends on the size of the bunion, the degree of misalignment, and the amount of pain experienced. Bunion surgery, called a bunionectomy, may be recommended in severe cases. This surgery removes the bunion and realigns the toe.
Bunion surgery is usually done as an out patient procedure, so the patient does not have to stay in hospital overnight although it is usually performed under a general anesthetic. The procedure involves the surgeon making a cut on the inside of the big toe joint and removing excess bone whilst also repositioning ligaments and tendons. The joint may be fixed with screws or wires, which may be dissolve, or may be removed at a later date or in some cases, remain in the foot permanently. After the operation the foot will be immobilized, often in a cast for 4 to 8 weeks to keep the bones in alignment. Crutches will usually be issued to help the patient get around. After this period, the foot will be assessed to check the bones have healed correctly. At which point full weight bearing may be gradually introduced.
The best protection against developing bunions is to protect and care for your feet every day. Avoid tight and narrow-fitting shoes. Limit your use of high heels. Wear comfortable shoes with adequate space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Getting treatment for very flat or very high-arched feet (if you are experiencing symptoms) will give your feet the proper support and help maintain stability and balance.