Bunions are bony bumps that form on the side of the big toe joint or baby toe joint (these are commonly called ?bunionettes? or ?tailor?s bunions?). Bunions most commonly result from one or more of the following factors: genetics, faulty foot mechanics like over-pronation, and/or long periods of time spent in improperly fitting footwear. Bunions can start with audible clicking (called ?crepitus?) and/or stiffness in the affected joint which indicates that the joint surfaces are rubbing together improperly. This may progress to include inflammation, degeneration of the surfaces of the joint, deformity (including bone growth at the joint line and displacement of the toe) and ultimately, loss of range of motion in the joint.
High heels can exacerbate a potential bunion problem because they tip the body?s weight forward, forcing the toes into the front of the shoe. This may help to explain why bunions are 10 times more common in women than in men. People in occupations such as teaching and nursing, that involve a lot of standing and walking, are susceptible to bunions. Ballet dancers, whose feet suffer severe repetitive stress, are also amongst those who experience bunions. Women can sometimes develop bunions and other foot problems during pregnancy because hormonal changes loosen the ligaments and flatten the feet. Bunions are also associated with arthritis, which damages the cartilage within the joint.
Bunions may cause no pain at first. But as the big toe begins to turn in towards the other toes, people with bunions usually experience redness, pain, swelling, and tenderness in the area around the joint. Pressure inside the joint or from footwear pressing against the bunion may also cause discomfort. As the affected toe curves closer to the other toes on the foot, these toes can become painful as well. Complications of bunions include corns, calluses, hammer toe, and ingrown toenails. Other complications include irritation of the nerves surrounding the bunion area. Excess rubbing of the bunion against the footwear may lead to changes in the skin, resulting in corns or calluses. Hammer toe is a deformity of the toe immediately next to the big toe. A hammer toe is slightly raised and points upwards from the base and downwards at the end of the toe. Ingrown toenails can result from increased pressure from the big toe on the other toes. There may also be a decrease in the amount a person can move the joint affected by the bunion. Irritation of the nerves will feel like burning or decreased sensation.
Your doctor will ask questions about your past health and carefully examine your toe and joint. Some of the questions might be: When did the bunions start? What activities or shoes make your bunions worse? Do any other joints hurt? The doctor will examine your toe and joint and check their range of motion. This is done while you are sitting and while you are standing so that the doctor can see the toe and joint at rest and while bearing weight. X-rays are often used to check for bone problems or to rule out other causes of pain and swelling. Other tests, such as blood tests or arthrocentesis (removal of fluid from a joint for testing), are sometimes done to check for other problems that can cause joint pain and swelling. These problems might include gout , rheumatoid arthritis , or joint infection.
Non Surgical Treatment
Conservative Treatment. Apply a commercial, nonmedicated bunion pad around the bony prominence. Wear shoes with a wide and deep toe box. If your bunion becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling. Avoid high-heeled shoes over two inches tall. See your podiatric physician if pain persists. Orthotics. Shoe inserts may be useful in controlling foot function and may reduce symptoms and prevent worsening of the deformity. Padding & Taping. Often the first step in a treatment plan, padding the bunion minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping helps keep the foot in a normal position, thus reducing stress and pain. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections are often prescribed to ease the acute pain and inflammations caused by joint deformities. Physical Therapy. Often used to provide relief of the inflammation and from bunion pain. Ultrasound therapy is a popular technique for treating bunions and their associated soft tissue involvement.
When these above measures no longer help to relieve the pain in the big toe, surgery to correct the bunion deformity is considered. Numerous surgical procedures have been recommended for bunions. What is most critical is that the type of deformity is carefully evaluated, because one bunion surgery cannot be used for all types of bunions. If the big toe joint is rotated out of place, the joint must be rotated back in place for the procedure to work. Conversely, a bunion can occur with the big toe still ?in place.? If surgery is considered, the bunion must be corrected with the toe joint left in its current position. In other words, one type of bunion repair does not work for everyone. In all types of bunion repairs, ligaments and tendons (soft tissues) around the big toe joint are reconstructed, to allow the toe to be straightened. Most bunion procedures also require cutting the metatarsal bone, which is then fixed with metal screws to hold the bone in position until it heals. It usually takes 2 to 4 months to fully recover from bunion surgery, which is why it is always the last course of treatment.
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.