A bunion is an enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe (the metatarsophalangeal or MTP joint) that forms when the bone or tissue moves out of place. The toe bends inward at an awkward angle, which usually creates a large bone lump. If not treated, bunions can become very painful since this area supports a lot of body weight. The MTP joint can also become sore and stiff. Bunions can occur on the outside of the little toe as well.
What causes bunions? This question is often answered by blaming shoes. But in fact, shoes only play a small role in developing bunions. Yes, shoes, especially high heels cause abnormal squeezing of your forefoot. This in turn to help promote a bunion. But if everyone who wore high heels shoes had a bunion, there would be a lot more then the 15% prevalence we see in the general population. As you can see from the flow chart, genetics plays the major role in development of bunion deformities. Genetics determines the way your foot functions. Are you flatfooted? Are your joints flexible or stiff? Do you have a high arch? Do you have tight muscles? These traits are determined by your genetic code. These characteristics then govern how your bones and joints move when you walk. As an example, if your joints are very flexible, this can cause an abnormal amount of instability in your forefoot when you walk. Over time, this abnormal motion will cause the a bunion to develop by allowing your first metatarsal to "drift" towards the mid-line of your body.
The symptoms of a bunion include pain, swelling, and redness over the bony bump on the inside of the foot. It can become painful to walk, because the big toe bends every time you take a step. Shoes can become painful to wear, especially ones that are even a little bit tight. Usually, bunions become more painful as they get larger. In severe cases, you can develop arthritis in the big toe as a result of the bunion. However, a bunion that is not painful does not need surgical treatment, even a large one.
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 arrange for x-rays to be taken 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.
Non Surgical Treatment
A bunion may only need to be treated if it's severe and causing significant pain and discomfort. The different treatments for bunions are described below. If possible, non-surgical treatment for bunions will be used, which your GP can discuss with you. Non-surgical treatments can ease the pain and discomfort caused by a bunion, but they can't change the shape of your foot or prevent a bunion from getting worse over time. Non-surgical treatments include painkillers, bunion pads, orthotics, wearing suitable footwear, These are discussed in more detail below. If your bunion is painful, over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may be recommended.Bunion pads may also ease the pain of a bunion. Reusable bunion pads, made of either gel or fleece, are available over the counter from pharmacies. Some are adhesive and stick over the bunion, while others are held against your foot by a small loop that fits over your big toe. Bunion pads stop your foot rubbing on your shoe and relieve the pressure over the enlarged joint at the base of your big toe. Orthotics are placed inside your shoes to help realign the bones of your foot. They may help relieve the pressure on your bunion, which can ease the pain. However, there's little evidence that orthotics are effective in the long term. It's important that the orthotic fits properly, so you may want to seek advice from your GP or podiatrist (a specialist in diagnosing and treating foot conditions), who can suggest the best ones for you.
Depending on the severity of the deformity, this osteotomy can be done either at the end of the metatarsal (a distal osteotomy) or if the deformity is more severe, the osteotomy is performed at the base of the first metatarsal (a proximal osteotomy). One of the more common distal metatarsal osteotomies that is performed is called the chevron osteotomy. Typically a small screw is inserted into the bone to hold the metatarsal head in place and speed up bone healing. Following a chevron osteotomy, walking is permitted in a surgical shoe the next day after surgery and the shoe is worn for approximately three to four weeks before a more comfortable walking/running type shoe is worn.
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.