Knowing how bunions develop is helpful in selecting the appropriate bunion treatment. In general, most bunion deformities are a result of foot structure and function which are genetic. As the heel strikes the ground when walking, the joints of the foot unlock and absorb impact. Referred to as pronation, the arch collapses causing the feet to flatten. This flattening causes excessive tension of the tendon in the upper mid-foot that enables the big toe to bend upward. The tendon contracts which then forces the big toe to be pulled laterally toward the second toe. It can take many years for a bunion to develop, and especially to the point of pain. One can have a bunion but not yet experience any bunion pain. Conversely, one can suffer from bunion pain without having a severe deformity.
Bunions are caused by a combination of factors, including a familial predisposition, and wearing high-heeled shoes that are tight and narrow at the front. Most bunions occur in women. Sometimes other foot problems accompany bunions, including calluses and hammertoes (angling downward of the lesser toes).
Symptoms, which occur at the site of the bunion, may include pain or soreness, inflammation and redness, a burning sensation, possible numbness. Symptoms occur most often when wearing shoes that crowd the toes, such as shoes with a tight toe box or high heels. This may explain why women are more likely to have symptoms than men. In addition, spending long periods of time on your feet can aggravate the symptoms of bunions.
Looking at the problem area on the foot is the best way to discover a bunion. If it has the shape characteristic of a bunion, this is the first hint of a problem. The doctor may also look at the shape of your leg, ankle, and foot while you are standing, and check the range of motion of your toe and joints by asking you to move your toes in different directions A closer examination with weight-bearing X-rays helps your doctor examine the actual bone structure at the joint and see how severe the problem is. A doctor may ask about the types of shoes you wear, sports or activities (e.g., ballet) you participate in, and whether or not you have had a recent injury. This information will help determine your treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
Conservative Treatment. Apply a commercial, nonmedicated bunion pad around the bony prominence. Wear shoes with a wide and deep toe box. If your bunion becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling. Avoid high-heeled shoes over two inches tall. See your podiatric physician if pain persists. Orthotics. Shoe inserts may be useful in controlling foot function and may reduce symptoms and prevent worsening of the deformity. Padding & Taping. Often the first step in a treatment plan, padding the bunion minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping helps keep the foot in a normal position, thus reducing stress and pain. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections are often prescribed to ease the acute pain and inflammations caused by joint deformities. Physical Therapy. Often used to provide relief of the inflammation and from bunion pain. Ultrasound therapy is a popular technique for treating bunions and their associated soft tissue involvement.
When early treatments fail or the bunion progresses past the threshold for such options, podiatric surgery may become necessary to relieve pressure and repair the toe joint. Several surgical procedures are available to the podiatrist. The surgery will remove the bony enlargement, restore the normal alignment of the toe joint, and relieve pain. A simple bunionectomy, in which only the bony prominence is removed, may be used for the less severe deformity. Severe bunions may require a more involved procedure, which includes cutting the bone and realigning the joint. Recuperation takes time, and swelling and some discomfort are common for several weeks following surgery. Pain, however, is easily managed with medications prescribed by your podiatrist.
Wear insoles and well-fitting shoes to help slow down the progression of bunions and alleviate discomfort. Cushioning can also help alleviate discomfort. Consider wearing shoes with a wide toe box so they don't crowd your toes. Children can also develop bunions and should wear properly fitting shoes as their feet are still developing.