When the big toe is misaligned, it creates an unnatural bump on the inside of the forefoot (see image below). In addition to being unsightly, the lump or bunion can cause pain and make buying shoes difficult. Some people are born predisposed to bunions. But most people acquire them over time from ill-fitting footwear that squeezes the big toe inward toward the other toes. About four out of five bunion pain patients are female, a near perfect fit for the bad shoe theory. The good news, Bunions can be corrected, often with better-fitting shoes and custom orthotics. There are also some cases that cause severe bunion pain and do not respond to conservative treatment. For those patients, bunion surgery called bunionectomy may be necessary.
Hereditary and shoe gear are probably the most likely causes. Tight pointy shoes (and high heels) may promote the formation of a bunion. A bunion may develop rapidly or develop slowly over time. Some people have bunions in their teens while others only develop a bunion later in life. Bunions come in a variety of sizes - from small to severe. In some cases, the big toe may push against the second toe, and may result in pain and a hammer toe, or progress onto a severe disfiguring foot deformity. Depending on your overall health, symptoms and severity of the bunion, the condition may be treated conservatively and/or with surgery.
The initial symptom may be pain at the joint prominence when wearing certain shoes. The joint capsule may be tender at any stage. Later symptoms may include a painful, warm, red, cystic, movable, fluctuant swelling located medially (adventitial bursitis) and swellings and mild inflammation affecting the entire joint (osteoarthritic synovitis), which is more circumferential. With hallux limitus or rigidus, there is restriction of passive joint motion, tenderness at the dorsolateral aspect of the joint, and increased dorsiflexion of the distal phalanx.
Your doctor can identify a bunion by examining your foot. Watching your big toe as you move it up and down will help your doctor determine if your range of motion is limited. Your doctor will also look for redness or swelling. After the physical exam, an X-ray of your foot can help your doctor identify the cause of the bunion and rate its severity.
Non Surgical Treatment
In most cases the symptoms of bunions can be reduced or relieved without surgery. Reducing pressure on the bunion is the first step in reducing the pain associated with the condition. Wearing correctly fitting shoes is important in achieving this. A referral to a podiatrist may be made in order to assess the need for special orthotic devices, such as custom-made arch supports and shoe inserts (eg: metatarsal pad or bar). These can help to relieve tension on the base of the big toe and help prevent flat-footedness. Specific exercises and bunion pads available over-the-counter at pharmacies may also be of benefit. Anti-inflammatory medicines can help to ease pain in the short term. Steroid injections may be used to relieve severe pain. If a sufficient reduction in symptoms is not achieved by non-surgical treatment, then surgery may be recommended.
There are a number of different surgical procedures used to treat bunions. The type of surgery recommended for you will depend on the severity of the deformity. Your surgeon may use pins, wires or screws to hold the bones in place while they heal. Depending on the type of surgery you have, these may be left in your foot or removed later on. Some of the surgical procedures for bunions are described below. Osteotomy is the most commonly used and proven type of bunion surgery. Although there are many different types of osteotomy, they generally involve cutting and removing part of the bone in your toe. During the procedure, your surgeon will remove the bony lump and realign the bones inside your big toe. They'll also move your toe joint back in line, which may involve removing other pieces of bone, possibly from the neighbouring toes. A procedure called distal soft tissue realignment may be combined with an osteotomy. This involves altering the tissue in your foot to help correct the deformity and improve the stability and appearance of the foot.