The term bunion as it is popularly used describes a variety of deformities involving a painful prominence and swelling at the base of the big toe. Orthopaedists use additional terms to describe the different deformities. The condition in which the big toe deviates from the normal position toward the direction of the second toe is referred to as hallux valgus. The word bunion refers specifically to the prominence made of bone and at times an inflamed bursa. This bursa develops on the first metatarsal head at the base of the big toe because of this bony prominence. Although a bunion may develop without hallux valgus, for the purposes of this discussion, the term bunion will include both. Dorsal bunions, are a separate entity, in which the prominence appears on the top of the base of the toe-often the result of an arthritic joint.
Wearing footwear that is too tight or causing the toes to be squeezed together are the most commonly blamed factor for the cause of bunions and hallux valgus and is undoubtedly the main contributing factor. This probably is the reason for the higher prevalence of bunions among women. However, studies of some indigenous populations that never wear footwear, show that they also get bunions but they are very uncommon. As they do get bunions, factors other than footwear must play a role in the cause, even though footwear is the main culprit for providing the pressure that causes the symptoms.
Bunions starts as the big toe begins to deviate, developing a firm bump on the inside edge of the foot, at the base of the big toe. Initially, at this stage the bunion may not be painful. Later as the toes deviate more the bunion can become painful, there may be redness, some swelling, or pain at or near the joint. The pain is most commonly due to two things, it can be from the pressure of the footwear on the bunion or it can be due to an arthritis like pain from the pressure inside the joint. The motion of the joint may be restricted or painful. A hammer toe of the second toe is common with bunions. Corns and calluses can develop on the bunion, the big toe and the second toe due to the alterations in pressure from the footwear. The pressure from the great toe on the other toes can also cause corns to develop on the outside of the little toe or between the toes. The change in pressure on the toe may predispose to an ingrown nail.
Clinical findings are usually specific. Acute circumferential intense pain, warmth, swelling, and redness suggest gouty arthritis (see Gout) or infectious arthritis (see Acute Infectious Arthritis), sometimes mandating examination of synovial fluid. If multiple joints are affected, gout or another systemic rheumatic disease should be considered. If clinical diagnosis of osteoarthritic synovitis is equivocal, x-rays are taken. Suggestive findings include joint space narrowing and bony spurs extending from the metatarsal head or sometimes from the base of the proximal phalanx. Periarticular erosions (Martel sign) seen on imaging studies suggest gout.
Non Surgical Treatment
Apply a commercial bunion pad around the bony prominence, use only non-medicated pads. Wear shoes with a wide and deep toe box. You should be able to "dimple" the leather over your bunion. Avoid all high heeled shoes. If your bunion becomes painful red, and swollen try elevating your foot and applying ice for about 20 minuets every hour. If symptoms persist, consult your podiatrist or physician.
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.
The best way to prevent a bunion is to be proactive in the truest sense of the word. Go over your risk factors. If you know that you pronate or have any problem with the mechanics of your foot, talk with a podiatric physician about the correct types of shoes and/or orthoses for you. If you are not sure whether you have such a problem, the podiatric professional can analyze your foot, your stride and the wear pattern of your shoes, and give you an honest evaluation. Has anyone in your family complained of bunions? Does your job involve a lot of standing, walking or other stress on your feet or toes? Do you exercise? If so, what kind of shoes do you wear for sports? For work? For school? Do you ever feel pain in your toes, or have you noticed a pronounced or increased redness on your big toe, or on the other side of your foot, near your little toe? Make sure you let the doctor know. Keep track of whether any relatives have suffered from arthritis or other joint problems, as well as anything else that might be relevant to your podiatric health. If you?ve suffered sports injuries previously, let the doctor know about that, too. In other words, try to give your health care professional the most honest and thorough background you can, so that he or she can make the best evaluation possible.