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.
Bunions are not inherited, but do tend to run in families. What is inherited is the poor or faulty foot type, that mechanically can lead to the instability around the joint that will eventually lead to bunions, how soon, how quickly and how bad they are or become is assumed to be very dependant on the footwear. A number of other factors are known to play a role in the cause of bunions and hallux valgus. Bunions can follow foot injuries and develop in those with neuromuscular problems. Those with flat feet or pronated feet appear to be more prone to the instability about the joint and have a higher incidence of bunions. Some activities (eg ballet dancing) puts added pressure on the joint and may increase the chance of bunions developing.
The symptoms of bunions include irritated skin around the bunion, pain when walking, joint redness and pain, and possible shift of the big toe toward the other toes. Blisters may form more easily around the site of the bunion as well. Having bunions can also make it more difficult to find shoes that fit properly; bunions may force a person to have to buy a larger size shoe to accommodate the width the bunion creates. When bunion deformity becomes severe enough, the foot can hurt in different places even without the constriction of shoes because it then becomes a mechanical function problem of the forefoot.
Your doctor will be able to diagnose a bunion by asking about your symptoms and examining your feet. You may also have blood tests to rule out any other medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout, although this is rare. Your doctor may refer you to a podiatrist or chiropodist (healthcare professionals who specialise in conditions that affect the feet).
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment falls into two broad categories, conservative and surgical. From a conservative standpoint, efforts are directed at correcting faulty foot mechanics with custom molded insoles and relief of symptoms. These include Custom Orthosis to stabilize the abnormal motion of the hind and fore foot. Shoe gear modification: Using shoes with larger toe boxed and more supple materials. Changes in activities. Try to avoid those things which cause symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medication for periodic relief this includes cortisone injections into the joint as well as oral medication.
For very severe bunion deformities where there is considerable angulation between the first and second metatarsals an osteotomy of the metatarsal may not be sufficient and for these patients, the joint between the first metatarsal and the cuneiform bone is fused with screws, called the Lapidus procedure. This realigns the metatarsal completely and stabilizes the bone, preventing mobility and recurrent deformity.