Bunions (hallux valgus) are often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. But a bunion is more than that. The visible bump actually reflects changes in the bony framework of the front part of the foot. With a bunion, the big toe leans toward the second toe, rather than pointing straight ahead. This throws the bones out of alignment, producing the bunion's "bump." Bunions are a progressive disorder. They begin with a leaning of the big toe, gradually changing the angle of the bones over the years and slowly producing the characteristic bump, which continues to become increasingly prominent. Bunions can be painful, but not always. Bunions are always progressive, so the deformity becomes more prounced over time, even if its not painful.
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.
Symptoms often include pain, swelling, and abnormal position of the first toe. The technical term for bunions is ?hallux valgus? (HV). This refers to the first toe or hallux moving away or abducting from the middle of the foot and then twisting in such a way that the inside edge actually touches the ground and the outside edge turns upward. This term describes the deviation of the toe toward the outside part of the foot. If left untreated, bunions can worsen over time and cause considerable difficulty in walking, discomfort, and skin problems such as corns. In some cases, a small bursa (fluid-filled sac) near the joint becomes inflamed. This condition is known as bursitis and can cause additional redness, swelling, and pain. Less frequently, bunions occur at the base of the fifth toe. When this occurs, it is called a ?tailor?s bunion? or bunionette.
Your doctor is very likely to be able to diagnose your bunion simply by examining your foot. Even before that, he or she will probably ask about your family and personal medical history and evaluate the types of shoes you wear. You'll be asked about your symptoms, when they started and when they occur. You may also be asked to flex your toe so that your doctor can get an idea of your range of motion. He or she may order x-rays in order to determine the extent of your deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Wear comfortable shoes that don't squeeze your toes together. Sandals are ideal in warm weather. Cushioning the bunion with a donut-shaped bunion pad sold at drugstores can prevent any direct rubbing against your shoes. Have your shoes stretched to give your foot more room or consider switching to footwear customized to relieve pressure on the affected area. Soak your foot in warm water to help lessen the pain after a day on your feet. Apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling of painful and inflamed bunions. Take aspirin or ibuprofen for the inflammation and pain, and try supplementing with anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger and turmeric (these work more slowly than the drugs). See a podiatrist for specially fitted shoes or orthotic devices that may help. Sometimes, surgery is necessary. Seek a second opinion before scheduling any operation.
If these methods fail, then surgery may be suggested. Basically, bunion surgery is performed to improve function or to prevent pain from occurring. When surgery is delayed in a symptomatic foot, greater amounts of arthritis can develop and the more complicated surgery can become. Surgery is performed to improve alignment and function to the big toe joint. The large bump is removed and, sometimes, a cut is made into the bone, to move it to a more normal position. Screws, pins and wires can be used beneath the skin, to improve healing and results. Healing can range from 3-12 weeks, depending on the procedure.