A bunion is a bony protrusion on the side of the big toe or in some less common cases on the outside of the small toe. The protrusion at the joint of the base of the toe can become irritated, swollen and painful. As the protrusion becomes larger the toe bends toward the second toe causing further sources of irritation. There appears to be multiple causes of a bunion. Genetically the foot may be shaped such that normal activity puts excessive pressure on the big toe eventually causing a bunion. Some suggest footwear that does not fit properly may also put excessive pressure and cause a bunion. The protrusion may be excessive bone structure or a fluid sac called the bursa that becomes inflamed. In any case the deformity of the toe makes it difficult to find proper fitting footwear, is not a pleasant sight, and can be very painful.
Improper footwear. Podiatric physicians have long believed that narrow, poor-fitting shoes with a tight toe box tend to compress the end of the foot, leading to abnormal motion of the foot and pressure over the MTP joint. High-heeled shoes tend to add even more pressure to the toes, as the foot slides downward. Over time, continued pressure will squeeze the toes together, encouraging the deformity. Occupational hazards. Individuals whose jobs place undue stress on their feet are among those who complain of bunions. Ballet dancers, in particular, put great demands on their toes, and thus are often subject to bunions, however, they are not alone. Many professionals whose jobs require a great deal of standing or walking (teachers, police officers, doctors and nurses, etc.) and/or who are required to wear a particular type of shoe or boot as part of a uniform, also are at risk. Athletes such as runners or walkers, who utilize the wrong footwear, may also develop bunions.
SymptomsPatients with bunions will often display pain over the prominent bump on the inside of their forefoot (the medial eminence?). However, they may also have pain under the ball of the foot (under the area near the base of the second toe). Symptoms can vary in severity from none at all to severe discomfort aggravated by standing and walking. There is no direct correlation between the size of the bunion and the patient?s symptoms. Some patients with severe bunion deformities have minimal symptoms, while patients with mild bunion deformities may have significant symptoms. Symptoms are often exacerbated by restrictive shoe wear, particularly shoes with a narrow toe box or an uncomfortable, stiff, restraining upper.
Before examining your foot, the doctor will ask you about the types of shoes you wear and how often you wear them. He or she also will ask if anyone else in your family has had bunions or if you have had any previous injury to the foot. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose a bunion just by examining your foot. During this exam, you will be asked to move your big toe up and down to see if you can move it as much as you should be able to. The doctor also will look for signs of redness and swelling and ask if the area is painful. Your doctor may want to order X-rays of the foot to check for other causes of pain, to determine whether there is significant arthritis and to see if the bones are aligned properly.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is no way to eliminate existing bunions except to have them surgically removed. There are nonsurgical measures you can take to alleviate the pain and prevent your bunions from increasing in severity, and for that reason it's important to see your doctor before they become a serious problem. The more extensive your bunions are, the less effective nonsurgical treatments are. On the other hand, most bunions can be dealt with without surgery through wearing roomier, low-heel shoes, padding and taping your feet, using medications for pain control, going to physical therapy to relieve inflammation and wearing orthotics in your shoes to correct mechanical problems. Bunions that are not causing pain generally aren't appropriate for surgery. Roomier shoes. You should seek out shoes that conform to the shape of your feet as much as possible and provide plenty of room in the toe box, ensuring that your toes are not pinched or squeezed. You should make sure that, while standing, there is a half inch of space for your longest toe at the end of each shoe. Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably in the widest part of the shoe. Feet normally swell during the course of the day, so shop for shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are at their largest. Don't be vain about your shoe size, sizes vary by brand, so concentrate on making certain your shoes are comfortable. Remember that your two feet are very likely to be different sizes and fit your shoe size to the larger foot. Low-heel shoes. High heels shift all your body weight onto your toes, increasing the pressure on your toes and their joints tremendously. Instead, wear shoes with low (less than two inches) or flat heels that fit your foot comfortably. Padding and Taping. Padding the bunion can minimize pain and allow you to walk more normally. Specially designed pads for this are available at most drugstores. Taping your foot can reduce stress and pain in it by helping it stay in a more normal position. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help deal with pain and inflammation caused by your bunion. Cortisone injections may be prescribed for the same purpose. If your bunion is a consequence of arthritis in the MTP joint, your physician may prescribe medications for that. Physical Therapy. Ultrasound treatments and whirlpool baths can help reduce pain and inflammation in bunions and related tissues. Orthotics are shoe inserts that can help correct mechanical foot-motion problems to reduce pain and prevent worsening of your bunion. Other measures. Icing and elevating your foot when your bunion is painful may help. Having your shoes stretched at a shoe repair shop may help also.
Bunion Surgery Is Not Cosmetic Surgery. Bunions may not be pretty, but cosmetic deformity is not a good reason to perform surgery. There are too many potential complications to perform a bunion surgery simply for cosmetic reasons. Patients Must Have Realistic Expectations. Bunion surgery can be helpful at relieving pain, but patients should not expect to have "normal" feet after surgery. In one study, a leading researcher on foot problems such as bunions, found that 1/3 of his patients could not wear the type of shoe they desired prior to surgery. The Foot Width Change Is Small. Bunion surgery decreases the width of the forefoot by about 1/8 of an inch. That's not much! That is the reason why even after surgery, most patients will not be wearing slender shoes. Surgery can be an excellent treatment option for patients with problems from their bunions. That said, patients must understand this is a procedure that has potential complications and a lengthy rehabilitation. The patients who tend to be unsatisfied with bunion surgery are those patients who are having surgery done to allow them to have normal looking feet or allow them to wear slim shoes. If that sounds like your motivation, think long and hard about surgery. Surgery should be reserved for those patients who have significant pain, and are unable to correct the problem with adaptive footwear.
Because bunions develop slowly, taking care of your feet during childhood and early adulthood can pay off later in life. Keep track of the shape of your feet as they develop over time, especially if foot problems run in your family. Exercising your feet can strengthen them. Learn to pick up small objects, like a pencil or pebble, with your toes. Wear shoes that fit properly and don't cramp or pinch your toes. Women should avoid shoes with very high heels or pointed toes.