In medical terms, a bunion, or hallux valgus, is a bony bump that forms around the joint at the base of your big toe. This joint is one of the most important parts of your foot, bearing most of your body weight. The bony bump is caused by the head of the first metatarsal bone (the long bone) behind the big toe angling out from the foot. This causes the joint to swell, pushing the big toe in towards the adjacent toes. The result is pain on the side of your foot, arch pain, and discomfort throughout the adjacent toes as well.
Hereditary and shoe gear are probably the most likely causes. Tight pointy shoes (and high heels) may promote the formation of a bunion. A bunion may develop rapidly or develop slowly over time. Some people have bunions in their teens while others only develop a bunion later in life. Bunions come in a variety of sizes - from small to severe. In some cases, the big toe may push against the second toe, and may result in pain and a hammer toe, or progress onto a severe disfiguring foot deformity. Depending on your overall health, symptoms and severity of the bunion, the condition may be treated conservatively and/or with surgery.
A bony bump along the edge of the foot, at the base of the big toe (adjacent to the ball of the foot) Redness and some swelling at or near the big toe joint. Deep dull pain in the big toe joint. Dull achy pain in the big toe joint after walking or a sharp pain while walking. The big toe is overlapping the second toe, resulting in redness, calluses, or other irritations such as corns.
People with bunions may be concerned about the changing appearance of their feet, but it is usually the pain caused by the condition that leads them to consult their doctor. The doctor will evaluate any symptoms experienced and examine the affected foot for joint enlargement, tissue swelling and/or tenderness. They will also assess any risk factors for the condition and will ask about family history. An x-ray of the foot is usually recommended so that the alignment of big toe joint can be assessed. This would also allow any other conditions that may be affecting the joint, such as arthritis, to be seen.
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.
Surgery should only be considered for bunions that are painful, not for correction of the cosmetic appearance! The primary indication for operative intervention should be pain that is not relieved by appropriate non-operative management. Although symptom-free bunions can slowly increase in size over time surgical treatment is not recommended unless significant pain symptoms develop. The prolonged recovery time associated with most bunion operations, combined with the potential for complications means that patients should be extremely cautious of undergoing bunion surgery for purely cosmetic reasons.