A bunion (also called Hallux Valgus) is a painful swelling caused by deformity of the big toe. As this swelling is caused by a bone it can be very unforgiving in shoes, which can rub on it causing pain, particularly formal foot shoes or high heels. Arthritis, or wearing tight or ill-fitting shoes over a period of many years, may increase the risk of bunions. However, they can have other causes. Bunions are more common in women and sometimes run in families.
What causes bunions? This question is often answered by blaming shoes. But in fact, shoes only play a small role in developing bunions. Yes, shoes, especially high heels cause abnormal squeezing of your forefoot. This in turn to help promote a bunion. But if everyone who wore high heels shoes had a bunion, there would be a lot more then the 15% prevalence we see in the general population. As you can see from the flow chart, genetics plays the major role in development of bunion deformities. Genetics determines the way your foot functions. Are you flatfooted? Are your joints flexible or stiff? Do you have a high arch? Do you have tight muscles? These traits are determined by your genetic code. These characteristics then govern how your bones and joints move when you walk. As an example, if your joints are very flexible, this can cause an abnormal amount of instability in your forefoot when you walk. Over time, this abnormal motion will cause the a bunion to develop by allowing your first metatarsal to "drift" towards the mid-line of your body.
With an advanced bunion, the big toe joint can be significantly deformed. The big toe can crowd the other toes and may lie over or under the second toe. The larger the bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Wearing any type of shoe can be painful. Symptoms of bunions tend to increase over time as the condition worsens. Typical symptoms include deformity of the big toe joint. Growth of a bony lump (exostosis) at the side of the big toe joint. Pain, redness and tissue swelling (bursitis) over the big toe joint, with thickening of overlying skin. Pain when walking (particularly during the "push off" phase). Overlapping of the big toe above or below the second toe in severe cases.
Bunions are readily apparent, you can see the prominence at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate your condition, the Podiatrist may arrange for x-rays to be taken to determine the degree of the deformity and assess the changes that have occurred. Because bunions are progressive, they don't go away, and will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike, some bunions progress more rapidly than others. There is no clear-cut way to predict how fast a bunion will get worse. The severity of the bunion and the symptoms you have will help determine what treatment is recommended for you.
Non Surgical Treatment
Apply special pads and dressings to protect the bunion from shoe pressure. Inject steroid and local anesthetic around the bunion to reduce inflammation. This is especially useful if there is an associated bursitis. Recommend commercially available or custom made shoes. Prescribe functional orthotics to correct faulty foot function, and help prevent worsening of the deformity. Recommend bunion surgery to correct the deformity.
Surgery can be a very successful treatment for bunions and could be considered if you are having pain that is affecting your function on a regular basis, for instance, pain during sports or wearing work shoes. It is important, however, that you are seen by a consultant orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon who has undergone specialist training with a foot and ankle fellowship. There are many different surgical techniques and it is important that your surgeon is expert in several of these so that you have the one that is best for your unique deformity. Bunion removal is usually done under general anesthesia. This means you will be asleep throughout the procedure. The operation can be performed as a day-case, but an overnight stay in hospital is sometimes required. Your surgeon will explain the benefits and risks of having bunion surgery, and will also discuss the alternatives treatments.