A bunion is the enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe. It occurs as a result of the misalignment of the bones of the big toe. This leads to stretching of the ligaments and tendons around the big toe joint and causes soft tissue over the joint to become inflamed and painful. There may be additional bone formation (exostosis) in the joint and the skin around the joint may become red and tender. Over time the cartilage in the joint can break down, leading to arthritis.
In most cases, bunions are caused by genetics and incorrect foot mechanics. The foot may flatten too much, forcing the toe joint to move beyond normal range. In some cases, arthritis or an injury produces a bunion. In other cases people are simply born with extra bone near a toe joint. Tight fitting shoes further complicate the condition. Shoes such as high heels are particularly damaging to the toes. These shoes have a sloping foot piece and a narrow toe box. The slope causes the front of the foot to be pushed with force into the narrow toe box. The narrow toe box causes the toes to become squeezed together. Depending on factors such as duration of wearing constraining footwear, skeletal maturity, and individual factors, the toes can be- come permanently adapted to the new position and lead to the formation of a bunion. Once a bunion forms, the mechanics of the feet and toes are altered. Tendons begin to pull the toe into an abnormal position, and the problem tends to progress over time.
Bunions may or may not cause symptoms. A frequent symptom is foot pain in the involved area when walking or wearing shoes that is relieved by resting. A bunion causes enlargement of the base of the big toe and is usually associated with positioning of the big toe toward the smaller toes. This leads to intermittent or chronic pain at the base of the big toe. Bunions that cause marked pain are often associated with swelling of the soft tissues, redness, and local tenderness. It is important to note that, in post-pubertal men and post-menopausal women, pain at the base of the big toe can be caused by gout and gouty arthritis that is similar to the pain caused by bunions.
When an x-ray of a bunion is taken, there is usually angulation between the first metatarsal bone and the bones of the big toe. There may also be angulation between the first and second metatarsal bones. These angular irregularities are the essence of most bunions. In general, surgery for bunions aims to correct such angular deformities.
Non Surgical Treatment
Podiatrists will treat bunions conservatively, using paddings and orthotics, which are devices that are made to protect the joint or deviate pressure away from it. Sometimes bunions will develop overlying callus or corns. These can be removed by a podiatrist, but if the area is irritated again by wearing ill-fitting footwear, the corn will grow back. Most people with this condition have flat feet, so arch supports are often recommended.
Bunions can cause pain and difficulty wearing certain shoes. When simple treatments don't relieve your symptoms, surgery may be considered for treatment of the bunion. What are the signs that surgery may be the right treatment for your bunion? In general, surgery is recommended only when pain from the bunion prevents a patient from wearing normal shoes. There is a common misconception that surgical treatments for a bunion are better and quicker than non-surgical treatments. Unfortunately, patients who rush into surgery may have unrealistic expectations, and may be unsatisfied with surgery.
Shoes that possess tapering toe boxes should be avoided if you have a bunion, as narrow toe boxes will hasten the progression of your bunion deformity. In some cases, conservative measures, including switching to appropriate footwear, may not have the desired effect, and your podiatrist may recommend for you a surgical procedure known as a bunionectomy.