Bunions (hallux valgus) are often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. But a bunion is more than that. The visible bump actually reflects changes in the bony framework of the front part of the foot. With a bunion, the big toe leans toward the second toe, rather than pointing straight ahead. This throws the bones out of alignment, producing the bunion's "bump." Bunions are a progressive disorder. They begin with a leaning of the big toe, gradually changing the angle of the bones over the years and slowly producing the characteristic bump, which continues to become increasingly prominent. Usually the symptoms of bunions appear at later stages, although some people never have symptoms.
There is no single cause of hallux valgus. It most commonly runs in families but may skip generations. High heel, pointed toe shoes are not the primary cause of the hallux valgus but they do cause it to be painful. Pressure from shoes may cause bunions, corns and calluses to develop where there is hallux valgus deformity. SymptomsSigns and symptoms of a bunion include the base of the big toe is swollen and sticks out. The big toe is often bent towards the other toes, and sometimes the second toe is pushed to overlap the third toe. Skin around the big toe joint is red and sore. Thickened skin at the base of the big toe. Pain in the big toe or foot. Wearing shoes is painful. Pain or difficulty when walking.
People with bunions may be concerned about the changing appearance of their feet, but it is usually the pain caused by the condition that leads them to consult their doctor. The doctor will evaluate any symptoms experienced and examine the affected foot for joint enlargement, tissue swelling and/or tenderness. They will also assess any risk factors for the condition and will ask about family history. An x-ray of the foot is usually recommended so that the alignment of big toe joint can be assessed. This would also allow any other conditions that may be affecting the joint, such as arthritis, to be seen.
Non Surgical Treatment
A bunion may only need to be treated if it's severe and causing significant pain and discomfort. The different treatments for bunions are described below. If possible, non-surgical treatment for bunions will be used, which your GP can discuss with you. Non-surgical treatments can ease the pain and discomfort caused by a bunion, but they can't change the shape of your foot or prevent a bunion from getting worse over time. Non-surgical treatments include painkillers, bunion pads, orthotics, wearing suitable footwear, These are discussed in more detail below. If your bunion is painful, over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may be recommended.Bunion pads may also ease the pain of a bunion. Reusable bunion pads, made of either gel or fleece, are available over the counter from pharmacies. Some are adhesive and stick over the bunion, while others are held against your foot by a small loop that fits over your big toe. Bunion pads stop your foot rubbing on your shoe and relieve the pressure over the enlarged joint at the base of your big toe. Orthotics are placed inside your shoes to help realign the bones of your foot. They may help relieve the pressure on your bunion, which can ease the pain. However, there's little evidence that orthotics are effective in the long term. It's important that the orthotic fits properly, so you may want to seek advice from your GP or podiatrist (a specialist in diagnosing and treating foot conditions), who can suggest the best ones for you.
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.