Bunions involve boney prominences and repositioning of the joints at the base of the big toes. Bunions most commonly affect the inner foot at the base of the big toe but also can affect the outside of the foot at the base of the little toe, referred to as a bunionette or tailor’s bunion. Bunions most commonly affect women. Bunions may or may not cause symptoms. Treatment of bunions can include rest, icing, alteration offootwear, foot supports (orthotics), medications, steroid injections, and or surgery.
Bunions are most widely considered to be due to an imbalance in the forces that is exerted across the joint during walking. The resulting abnormal motion and pressure over the joint, over many years (combined with poor fitting footwear) leads to instability in the joint causing hallux valgus and bunions. Bunions are really only a symptom of faulty foot mechanics and are usually caused by a combination of the way we walk, the foot we inherit and inappropriate footwear use.
SymptomsPatients with bunions will often display pain over the prominent bump on the inside of their forefoot (the medial eminence?). However, they may also have pain under the ball of the foot (under the area near the base of the second toe). Symptoms can vary in severity from none at all to severe discomfort aggravated by standing and walking. There is no direct correlation between the size of the bunion and the patient?s symptoms. Some patients with severe bunion deformities have minimal symptoms, while patients with mild bunion deformities may have significant symptoms. Symptoms are often exacerbated by restrictive shoe wear, particularly shoes with a narrow toe box or an uncomfortable, stiff, restraining upper.
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
Wearing good footwear does not cure the deformity but may ease symptoms of pain and discomfort. Ideally, get footwear advice from a person qualified to diagnose and treat foot disorders (podiatrist – previously called a chiropodist). Advice may include wear shoes, trainers or slippers that fit well and are roomy. Don’t wear high-heeled, pointed or tight shoes. You might find that shoes with laces or straps are best, as they can be adjusted to the width of your foot. Padding over the bunion may help, as may ice packs. Devices which help to straighten the toe (orthoses) are still occasionally recommended, although trials investigating their use have not found them much better than no treatment at all. Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may ease any pain. If the bunion (hallux valgus) develops as part of an arthritis then other medication may be advised. A course of antibiotics may be needed if the skin and tissues over the deformity become infected.
If the conservative options fail, your doctor will determine the best surgical procedure based on the severity of your condition. The most common surgical procedure is a bunionectomy, which includes removing swollen tissue from around your big toe joint. Removing part of the bone to straighten your big toe. Realigning the metatarsal bone to reduce angular deformity. Joining the bones in a corrected position to permanently correct the deformity. Most people can get up and walk around the day after bunion surgery, but full recovery can occasionally take up to eight weeks or more. Doctors stress the importance of wearing proper shoes, especially after treatment, to prevent recurrence. If you are at higher risk or prone to bunions, you may not be able to avoid recurrence.