A bunion (from the Latin 'bunion', meaning enlargement) is a protuberance of bone around the big toe joint. The enlargement can also occur at the outside of the foot, at the base of the little toe. This is called a tailor's bunion or bunionette. As a bunion deformity progresses with time, an enlargement increases in size behind the big toe, making shoe wear difficult and painful. Consequently, the big toe will shift position and move over or under the toes next to the big toe. Bunions can occur at any age between childhood and the golden years. The occurrence of bunions are far more prominent in women than men. Ill fitting narrow shoes and shoes with heels tend to aggravate bunions and cause them to occur at a higher incidence.
Shoes. The primary cause of bunions is the long term use of shoes, particularly tight-fitting shoes with pointed toes, or high heeled shoes. A study that examined people in cultures that do not wear shoes found no cases of bunions. Genetic. People who have misaligned toes or feet, are flatfooted with feet that roll inwards (over pronation), excessive flexibility of ligaments, abnormal bone structure, or have mechanical instability in the big toe joint are more susceptible to bunions. This is especially common when bunions occur in children or young adults. Injuries or other trauma (sprains, fractures or nerve injuries), neuromuscular disorders (polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease), or limb-length discrepancies (one leg longer than the other). Repetitive stresses to the foot. Bunions are common in ballet dancers and in a few sports. Arthritis.
The main problem is usually the pressure of the shoe over the bony prominence, which causes discomfort or pain. Sometimes the skin over the lump becomes red, blistered or infected. The foot may become so broad that it is difficult to get wide enough shoes. The big toe sometimes tilts over so much that it rubs on the second toe, or pushes it up out of place so it presses on the shoe. Also, the big toe does not work as well with a bunion, and the other toes have to take more of the weight of the body as you walk. This can cause pain under the ball of the foot ("metatarsalgia"). Sometimes arthritis develops in the deformed joint, causing pain in the joint.
People with bunions may be concerned about the changing appearance of their feet, but it is usually the pain caused by the condition that leads them to consult their doctor. The doctor will evaluate any symptoms experienced and examine the affected foot for joint enlargement, tissue swelling and/or tenderness. They will also assess any risk factors for the condition and will ask about family history. An x-ray of the foot is usually recommended so that the alignment of big toe joint can be assessed. This would also allow any other conditions that may be affecting the joint, such as arthritis, to be seen.
Non Surgical Treatment
Bunions often respond to conservative care measures and should always be treated by a qualified healthcare professional in a timely and appropriate manner. Conservative treatment for bunions usually involves the following, splinting your great toe (so that it does not migrate toward the inside edge of your foot). A toe-spacer (such as Correct Toes) may be a useful tool, because it helps progressively splay and re-align all of your toes. Performing range of motion exercises (to move your big toe into a more favorable position). Supporting of the joints in the back of your foot that cause forefoot instability. Using shoes that allow the bunion splint to keep your big toe pointing straight ahead.
To end persistent pain, your doctor may recommend a type of foot surgery called a bunionectomy to remove the bunion and perhaps to reshape the first toe joint. During the operation, the swollen tissue will be removed, the big toe will be straightened if necessary, and the bones of the affected joint may be reshaped or permanently joined. The goal of the surgery is to correct the cause of the bunion and to prevent the bunion from growing back. After surgery, pain medication will be prescribed, and you will be told when you can start moving your toes and ankle.
Shoes that possess tapering toe boxes should be avoided if you have a bunion, as narrow toe boxes will hasten the progression of your bunion deformity. In some cases, conservative measures, including switching to appropriate footwear, may not have the desired effect, and your podiatrist may recommend for you a surgical procedure known as a bunionectomy.