In medical terms, a bunion, or hallux valgus, is a bony bump that forms around the joint at the base of your big toe. This joint is one of the most important parts of your foot, bearing most of your body weight. The bony bump is caused by the head of the first metatarsal bone (the long bone) behind the big toe angling out from the foot. This causes the joint to swell, pushing the big toe in towards the adjacent toes. The result is pain on the side of your foot, arch pain, and discomfort throughout the adjacent toes as well.
Bunions have a number of causes, primarily genetics and bad choices in footwear. We inherit traits like flat feet, abnormal bone structure, and loose ligaments and tendons from our parents. When our feet are weakened by these traits and we stuff them into high heels or shoes which don?t support our feet correctly, the repeated stress on the front of the foot may contribute to the formation of a bunion. Other contributing factors are jobs that demand a lot of time standing, obesity, and sudden hormonal changes and weight gain, as in pregnancy. Unfortunately, bunions can lead to many other foot conditions as well. The joint behind the big toe carries much of your body weight and when the bunion makes it sore, you shift your weight onto other areas of the foot. That?s why we frequently see crossover toes, overlapping toes, hammer toes, corns, calluses, and ingrown toenails accompanying bunions. As pain in your foot increases, you?ll also reduce your activity, becoming more sedentary, which has its own quality-of-life issues.
The dominant symptom of a bunion is a big bulging bump on the inside of the base of the big toe. Other symptoms include swelling, soreness and redness around the big toe joint, a tough callus at the bottom of the big toe and persistent or intermittent pain.
A doctor can very often diagnose a bunion by looking at it. A foot x-ray can show an abnormal angle between the big toe and the foot. In some cases, arthritis may also be seen.
Non Surgical Treatment
The treatment of a bunion depends entirely on how uncomfortable it is. Realistically, there are only two ways to treat a bunion: either change the size and shape of the shoe or change the size and shape of the foot. Once a bunion gets to be irritating or painful and shoe wear is uncomfortable, surgery may be recommended.
Bunion surgery is most often performed as an out-patient, this means you go home that same day. It will likely be done at a hospital or out-patient (ambulatory) surgery center. The anesthetic choices with bunion surgery are local with sedation, spinal or general anesthesia. You wouldn?t expect that a small bunion would be treated exactly the same as a large one. Over the years, surgeons have developed dozens of methods to surgically correct bunions. But don?t worry because only a handful of methods are used today. With most bunion surgeries today, the procedure involves a combination of soft-tissue rebalancing of ligaments and tendons as well as bone work to re-align the foot structure. You may have heard people say they had their ?bunion shaved.? In most cases, the surgery often involves much more than simply shaving the bunion. The shaving part of the procedure is called an ?exostectomy? and often performed in conjunction with other methods.
Bunions often become painful if they are allowed to progress. But not all bunions progress. Many bunion problems can be managed without surgery. In general, bunions that are not painful do not need surgical correction. For this reason, orthopaedic surgeons do not recommend ?preventive? surgery for bunions that do not hurt, with proper preventive care, they may never become a problem.