If you have bunions, taking care of them now can help you avoid more serious treatment later. A bunion is a bump that forms on the joint of the big toe when bone or tissue moves out of place and extends beyond the normal anatomy of the toe. Left untreated, bunions can cause debilitating pain and may require surgery to correct.
Bunions most commonly affect women. Some studies report that bunions occur nearly 10 times more frequently in women. It has been suggested that tight-fitting shoes, especially high-heel and narrow-toed shoes, might increase the risk for bunion formation. Bunions are reported to be more prevalent in people who wear shoes than in barefoot people. While the precise causes are not known, there also seems to be inherited (genetic) factors that predispose to the development of bunions, especially when they occur in younger individuals. Other risk factors for the development of bunions include abnormal formation of the bones of the foot at birth (congenital), nerve conditions that affect the foot, rheumatoid arthritis, and injury to the foot. Bunions are common in ballet dancers.
Most patients complain of pain directly on the bunion area, within the big toe joint, and/or on the bottom of the foot. The bunion may become irritated, red, warm, swollen and/or callused. The pain may be dull and mild or severe and sharp. The size of the bunion doesn?t necessarily result in more pain. Pain is often made worse by shoes, especially shoes that crowd the toes. While some bunions may result in significant pain, other bunions may not be painful at all.
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
Several things can be done to help relive the pain of bunions. These won't make the bunion go away, but they can make the foot more comfortable. Wearing different shoes. Shoes with a wide toe box rather than a pointed one will help. Shoes with lower heels will also help. (High heels throw more of the body's weight on the front part of the foot where the toe joints are.) Padding. Pads placed over the bunion may help reduce the pain. These are available from a drug store or may be available from a foot and ankle surgeon. Avoiding activities that make the pain worse. This includes standing for a long time or other activities that make the bunion sore. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These include aspirin or ibuprofen. They relieve pain and swelling. Applying an ice pack to reduce swelling and pain. Corticosteroid injections. These are not often used in bunion treatment. Injecting corticosteroids sometimes helps if the bursa is inflamed. (Bursa is a fluid-filled sac within a joint to cushion the bones). Orthotic devices. These are devices placed inside a shoe that shift the positioning of the foot. Orthotics help compensate for structural issues that cause foot problems.
When a surgeon cuts and repositions a bone, it is referred to as an osteotomy. There are two basic techniques used to perform an osteotomy to realign the first metatarsal. In some cases, the far end of the bone is cut and moved laterally (called a distal osteotomy). This effectively reduces the angle between the first and second metatarsal bones. This type of procedure usually requires one or two small incisions in the foot. Once the surgeon is satisfied with the position of the bones, the osteotomy is held in the desired position with one, or several, metal pins. Once the bone heals, the pin is removed. The metal pins are usually removed between three and six weeks following surgery. In other situations, the first metatarsal is cut at the near end of the bone (called a proximal osteotomy). This type of procedure usually requires two or three small incisions in the foot. Once the skin is opened the surgeon performs the osteotomy. The bone is then realigned and held in place with metal pins until it heals. Again, this reduces the angle between the first and second metatarsal bones. Realignment of the big toe is then done by releasing the tight structures on the lateral, or outer, side of the first MTP joint. This includes the tight joint capsule and the tendon of the adductor hallucis muscle. This muscle tends to pull the big toe inward. By releasing the tendon, the toe is no longer pulled out of alignment. The toe is realigned and the joint capsule on the side of the big toe closest to the other toe is tightened to keep the toe straight, or balanced. Once the surgeon is satisfied that the toe is straight and well balanced, the skin incisions are closed with small stitches. A bulky bandage is applied to the foot before you are returned to the recovery room.
There are some steps that may help prevent, or at least slow, the progression of bunions. Avoid shoes with a narrow toe box. If your foot flattens excessively, make sure you wear supportive shoes, and if necessary, get custom orthotics from your podiatrist. See your podiatrist at the first signs or symptoms of a bunion deformity, as early treatment may stop or slow its progression.