A bunion is a firm, painful bump that forms over a bony bulge at the base of the big toe. In most cases, the big toe joint also is enlarged and has degenerative arthritis. The toe also may be pushed toward the second toe (hallux valgus). Bunions tend to be inherited, but they also are common in the following groups. Women who wear high heels. People who wear shoes that are too narrow or too pointed. People with flatfeet. All of these situations force the big toe to drift toward the little toes, and this can cause bunions to form.
Bunions are more common in women than men. The problem can run in families. People born with abnormal bones in their feet are more likely to form a bunion. Wearing narrow-toed, high-heeled shoes may lead to the development of a bunion. The condition may become painful as the bump gets worse. Extra bone and a fluid-filled sac grow at the base of the big toe.
With an advanced bunion, the big toe joint can be significantly deformed. The big toe can crowd the other toes and may lie over or under the second toe. The larger the bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Wearing any type of shoe can be painful. Symptoms of bunions tend to increase over time as the condition worsens. Typical symptoms include deformity of the big toe joint. Growth of a bony lump (exostosis) at the side of the big toe joint. Pain, redness and tissue swelling (bursitis) over the big toe joint, with thickening of overlying skin. Pain when walking (particularly during the "push off" phase). Overlapping of the big toe above or below the second toe in severe cases.
Although bunions are usually obvious from the pain and unusual shape of the toe, further investigation is often advisable. Your doctor will usually send you for X-rays to determine the extent of the deformity. Blood tests may be advised to see if some type of arthritis could be causing the pain. Based on this evaluation, your doctor can determine whether you need orthopaedic shoes, medication, surgery or other treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
Fortunately, many bunions never go on to cause problems other than the cosmetic appearance. The easiest option is to try different shoes or padding, however this is not the answer for everyone. The various straps and braces that are commercially available are not proven to be particularly effective.
Research shows that 85% of people who have bunion corrections are satisfied with the results. However, a number of problems can arise. The big toe is usually stiffer than before. For most people this does not matter, but for athletes or dancers it is very important. As mentioned before, the big toe is slightly weaker with a bunion, and this transfers weight onto the ball of the foot. After bunion surgery, this transfer of weight can increase. Therefore, if you have pain under the ball of the foot ("metatarsalgia") it may be worse after bunion surgery, and it may also develop for the first time. Careful surgical technique can reduce this risk, but it cannot avoid it completely. Most people who develop metatarsalgia are comfortable with a simple insole in the shoe but occasionally surgery is required. In some people the big toe slowly tilts back toward the original position and occasionally this is bad enough to need to have the operation redone. On the other hand, the toe can tilt the other way, though much more rarely. Again, occasionally this is bad enough to need to have the operation redone. Infections in the wound, plaster problems and minor damage to the nerves of the toe can occur in any foot surgery. Usually these are minor problems that get better quickly. This may sound like a lot of possible problems, but in fact most people do not get them and are satisfied with their bunion surgery. However, this may help you to see how important it is to have any bunion surgery carried out by a properly trained and experienced foot and ankle surgeon.
The best way to reduce your chances of developing bunions is to wear shoes that fit properly. Shoes that are too tight or have high heels can force your toes together. Bunions are rare in populations that don?t wear shoes. Make sure your shoes are the correct size and that there's enough room to move your toes freely. It's best to avoid wearing shoes with high heels or pointed toes.