Bunions are common but they can be misdiagnosed. We sometimes assume that any lump at the bottom of the big toe is a bunion. But as the Latin name (hallux valgus) suggests, the hallmark of a bunion is what happens to the toe itself (the hallux) rather than to the joint at its base. In bunions, the toe veers off in a valgus direction, that is, away from the midline. An outcrop of extra bone, or osteophyte, develops as the body tries to protect the exposed surface of the warped first metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP); a fluid-filled sac, or bursa, may also form, which often becomes inflamed. Foot experts are still not entirely agreed about what causes bunions. Genetics and lax ligaments are both implicated; the role of footwear is less clear. All bunion conversations seem to involve someone stating that barefoot tribes people don?t get bunions. This is not true.
The commonest cause of bunions is prolonged wearing of poorly designed shoes such as the narrow high heels that women wear. This is one of the reasons why bunions are much more common in women than in men. There is also a hereditary component to bunions in that many times we will see a grandmother, mother and daughter all with various stages of bunions. 38% of women in the United States wear shoes that are too small and 55% of women have some degree of bunion formation. Bunions are 9 times more common in women than they are in men.
The 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.
Before examining your foot, the doctor will ask you about the types of shoes you wear and how often you wear them. He or she also will ask if anyone else in your family has had bunions or if you have had any previous injury to the foot. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose a bunion just by examining your foot. During this exam, you will be asked to move your big toe up and down to see if you can move it as much as you should be able to. The doctor also will look for signs of redness and swelling and ask if the area is painful. Your doctor may want to order X-rays of the foot to check for other causes of pain, to determine whether there is significant arthritis and to see if the bones are aligned properly.
Non Surgical Treatment
Custom orthoses or over-the-counter insoles to aid big toe joint function, help control over-pronation and maintain proper alignment of the bones in the feet. Properly sized, supportive footwear that are torsionally stable (can?t be folded or twisted easily) and that feature a good ?rocker profile? (curved from the ball to tips of the toes) help to reduce stress on the joint when walking. Footwear modifications to expand the area of the shoe surrounding the bunion to relieve pressure. Physical therapy modalities include rest, icing and massage. Injections, surgery and other treatment options, please consult your medical doctor for information and/or referral to a podiatrist or other foot and ankle specialist.
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.