Bunions (sometimes referred to as Hallux abducto valgus) are enlargements of the inner portion of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint at the base of your big toe. More commonly, they are described as a bump on the side of the big toe. The foot bunion is the result of changes that occur in the framework of the bones at the front of your foot. Instead of pointing straight ahead, your big toe begins to lean into your second toe, throwing the bones out of alignment. Bunions are progressive, meaning you will not just wake up one day and find a visible bump (unless it was caused by a bug bite or something of that nature). Bunions are generally attributed to genetics and improper footwear. It may take years for a bunion to fully develop and begin to show symptoms. Some people may never experience symptoms at all. Bunions may begin to form during one?s teenage years, but they usually occur in people aged 20-30. Women are three times more likely than men to have bunions.
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.
SymptomsBunions typically start out as a mild bump or outward bending of the big toe. Bunions at this stage are usually only a concern of appearance at this stage, and at this point they often don’t hurt much. Over time, the ligaments that connect the bones of the toe stretch out, and the tendons attaching to the big toe gradually pull it farther and farther towards the second toe. Sometimes patients will find their first and second toes begin to press together too much, and they’ll often get a painful corn between those toes. As the bunion progresses, the big toe may begin to ride on top of the second toe, or vice versa, creating a second deformity. Others will develop bump pain at the site of the bony enlargement on the side of the foot. A painful bursa may develop at that site. This is particularly true in tight shoes. Many patients also develop a painful callus beneath the foot. Capsulitis and other types of metatarsalgia may develop in the joints beneath these calluses, particularly in the second and third metatarsophalangeal joints (the joints in the ball of the foot). Over time, with the toe held in a crooked position for enough time, arthritis develops in the big toe joint. This will usually result in decreased range of motion of that joint (a condition known as “Hallux Limitis”), which as a result, often causes the patient to changes in the way a patient walks. Often the patient walks in an “out-toed”, or duck-like, fashion, which very frequently causes secondary pain in the legs, knee, hip, and low back.
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
When the deformity is mild, treatment is usually not necessary. However, changing shoes to ones that have little or no heel, and are wider in the toe area (toe box) will be more comfortable and may help to prevent worsening of the bunion deformity. If the bunion starts to become painful, other measures may help. Bunions can cause pain in several different areas. The medial eminence may be painful, the entire first toe joint may hurt, or there may be pain underneath some or all of the forefoot (the ball of the foot). Pain over the medial eminence is the most common problem that affects bunion patients. A ?toe spacer? can be placed between the first and second toes and can provide some pain relief as it straightens out the bunion slightly. Pads placed over the medial eminence itself are hard to keep in place and rarely help to relieve pain. Pain underneath the first toe or lesser toes can be relieved by pads placed in the shoes in precise areas. The pads help to take pressure off the prominent areas on the bottom of the foot. Generalized measures to relieve bunion pain, such as physical therapy or foot stretching exercises, have not been shown to be helpful. Orthotics are often prescribed, but are also rarely helpful in relieving pain over the bunion, but may help with pain felt under the ball of the foot.
In cases where joint pain and deformity are severe, joint replacement surgery may be recommended. This may particularly be recommended when arthritis is present in the joint. Surgery may be carried out under a local, regional or general anaesthetic. Most cases are performed as a day stay procedure. However, an overnight stay in hospital may be required if the surgery is more extensive. The type of surgery to be performed, the type of anaesthetic to be used and the expected hospital stay should be discussed with your surgeon prior to surgery.