A bunion is an abnormal, bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of your big toe. Your big toe joint becomes enlarged, forcing the toe to crowd against your other toes. This puts pressure on your big toe joint, pushing it outward beyond the normal profile of your foot, and resulting in pain. Bunions can also occur on the joint of your little toe (bunionette). Bunions can occur for a number of reasons, but a common cause is wearing shoes that fit too tightly. They can also develop as a result of inherited structural defect, injury, stress on your foot or another medical condition.
No one single cause has been proven. There are a number of causes, and though shoes can exacerbate the problem, bunions do occur in societies that don?t wear them. We walk on the same type of ground all the time, whereas the human foot was actually designed to adapt to varying terrains. In a sense, a bunion is a type of repetitive strain injury. And like repetitive strain injury, some people are more prone to it than others. One theory, though it remains unproven, is that bunions are caused by one or both of the following. Because the foot wasn?t designed to constantly walk on a level surface, the ball of the big toe is slightly lower than the ball of the rest of your foot. When your foot meets the ground, the ball of the big toe is pushed up, and the big toe joint can?t bend as well as it was designed to. In order for the big toe joint to bend fully as you walk, your foot rolls slightly over to the side (this is also why people with hallux valgus often get hard skin). Also, if your midtarsal joint tends to move from side to side more than it does up and down, the arch in your foot collapses as your foot rolls in. This also makes you more prone to developing bunions. Such problems can be exacerbated by tight footwear. Slip-on shoes can make matters worse. Because they have to be tighter to stay on your feet, you automatically have less room for your toes. And with nothing to hold your foot in place, your toes often slide to the end where they?re exposed to lots of pressure. Likewise, high heels throw more weight onto the ball of the foot, putting your toes under further pressure. If you haven?t got a bunion by adulthood and you later develop one, there could be some underlying arthritis.
SymptomsThe symptoms of bunions include irritated skin around the bunion, pain when walking, joint redness and pain, and possible shift of the big toe toward the other toes. Blisters may form more easily around the site of the bunion as well. Having bunions can also make it more difficult to find shoes that fit properly; bunions may force a person to have to buy a larger size shoe to accommodate the width the bunion creates. When bunion deformity becomes severe enough, the foot can hurt in different places even without the constriction of shoes because it then becomes a mechanical function problem of the forefoot.
Clinical findings are usually specific. Acute circumferential intense pain, warmth, swelling, and redness suggest gouty arthritis (see Gout) or infectious arthritis (see Acute Infectious Arthritis), sometimes mandating examination of synovial fluid. If multiple joints are affected, gout or another systemic rheumatic disease should be considered. If clinical diagnosis of osteoarthritic synovitis is equivocal, x-rays are taken. Suggestive findings include joint space narrowing and bony spurs extending from the metatarsal head or sometimes from the base of the proximal phalanx. Periarticular erosions (Martel sign) seen on imaging studies suggest gout.
Non Surgical Treatment
The non-invasive treatments for bunions are many and include changes in footwear, icing the sore area, over the counter pain medications, orthotic shoe inserts, and weight management. If these conservative measures fail to arrest your pain and discomfort, your foot and ankle surgeon may recommend a bunionectomy or similar surgical procedure, depending on your condition.
To end persistent pain, your doctor may recommend a type of foot surgery called a bunionectomy to remove the bunion and perhaps to reshape the first toe joint. During the operation, the swollen tissue will be removed, the big toe will be straightened if necessary, and the bones of the affected joint may be reshaped or permanently joined. The goal of the surgery is to correct the cause of the bunion and to prevent the bunion from growing back. After surgery, pain medication will be prescribed, and you will be told when you can start moving your toes and ankle.