A bunion occurs when the big to begins to deviate towards the second toe. The biggest misconception is that bunions occur from an overgrowth of bone. While this may be true in very few people, the bunion really represents a dislocation or subluxation of the big toe joint and it bulges against the skin. This bony prominence is what is commonly called a bunion. Sometimes the bunion area may become irritated, red and/or callused.
Hereditary and shoe gear are probably the most likely causes. Tight pointy shoes (and high heels) may promote the formation of a bunion. A bunion may develop rapidly or develop slowly over time. Some people have bunions in their teens while others only develop a bunion later in life. Bunions come in a variety of sizes – from small to severe. In some cases, the big toe may push against the second toe, and may result in pain and a hammer toe, or progress onto a severe disfiguring foot deformity. Depending on your overall health, symptoms and severity of the bunion, the condition may be treated conservatively and/or with surgery.
SymptomsCorns and calluses may occur on the soles of the feet, in between toes and on the bunion joint. Stiffness can occur at the big toe due to secondary arthritis, this is known as Hallux Rigidus. Other foot conditions can occur such as in growing toenails and in severe cases the bunion joint may have a fluid filled sack called a bursitis. This can be very painful and can become infected.
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
A range of treatments is available for bunions, including painkillers, modifying footwear, orthotics, such as insoles, bunion pads and toe spacers. Surgery may be considered if a person’s symptoms are severe and do not respond to non-surgical treatment. The type of surgery used will depend on the level of deformity, the severity of any other associated symptoms, the patient’s age and any other associated medical conditions. Bunion surgery is usually effective, with up to 85% of cases resulting in improvement to symptoms. However, the deformity can sometimes return after bunion surgery.
There are dozens and dozens of types of surgery designed to address bunion deformities, and each have different indications. But in short, some procedures simply address an enlarged bump. Some simply address a crooked big toe. But in order to slow the return of the bunion deformity, most procedures aim to realign the big toe with the bone behind it, the “first metatarsal.” This would also realign the joint surfaces between those two bones. But even if the surgery is designed to realign the big toe, there are still many choices to consider. Some procedures are meant for a short first metatarsal and others for a long first metatarsal. Some are best when the foot is very unstable, others are based on the severity of the arthritis present. In fact, there are many, many factors to consider when designing a procedure to address a particular patient’s foot, to the extent that what’s involved in a bunion surgery not only varies from patient to patient–the procedures often vary even from a patient’s right foot to the left foot.