A bunion is a firm, painful bump that forms over a bony bulge at the base of the big toe. In most cases, the big toe joint also is enlarged and has degenerative arthritis. The toe also may be pushed toward the second toe (hallux valgus). Bunions tend to be inherited, but they also are common in the following groups. Women who wear high heels. People who wear shoes that are too narrow or too pointed. People with flatfeet. All of these situations force the big toe to drift toward the little toes, and this can cause bunions to form.
No single cause or set of causes for bunions has been identified, although gender-women develop them more frequently than men-and heredity play a role. In addition, the foot gradually widens with age as the ligaments that connect the bones in the forefoot become more lax. Contrary to what many people believe, ill-fitting footwear is not the cause of bunions. In fact, bunions are found in populations all over the world, including among those who never wear shoes. Shoes that are too tight can, however, contribute to the progression of the condition. Bunions are often bilateral, that is, appearing in both feet. Although bunions are usually seen in people who are middle-aged or older, there are adolescents who are diagnosed with the condition, usually the result of a congenital problem.
Many people with bunions suffer from discomfort and pain from the constant irritation, rubbing, and friction of the enlargement against shoes. The skin over the toe becomes red and tender. Because this joint flexes with every step, the bigger the bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Over time, bursitis or arthritis may set in, the skin on the bottom of the foot may become thicker, and everyday walking may become difficult-all contributing to chronic bunion pain.
Your doctor will ask questions about your past health and carefully examine your toe and joint. Some of the questions might be: When did the bunions start? What activities or shoes make your bunions worse? Do any other joints hurt? The doctor will examine your toe and joint and check their range of motion. This is done while you are sitting and while you are standing so that the doctor can see the toe and joint at rest and while bearing weight. X-rays are often used to check for bone problems or to rule out other causes of pain and swelling. Other tests, such as blood tests or arthrocentesis (removal of fluid from a joint for testing), are sometimes done to check for other problems that can cause joint pain and swelling. These problems might include gout , rheumatoid arthritis , or joint infection.
Non Surgical Treatment
The treatment of bunions should be individualized because the degree of deformity is not always consistent with the degree of pain. The most important first step in the treatment (and prevention) of bunions is to wear properly fitted shoes, with a low heel and adequate room in the toe area. Further treatment may include relative rest and icing to decrease pain around the MTP joint, medications to reduce inflammation and pain, stretching and strengthening exercises and shoe orthotics. If the above measures are not successful, surgery may be required.
Bunion surgery generally involves repositioning the maligned bones with a bone cut (osteotomy) and/or bone mending procedure (fusion). As such, the time it takes for bones to set or mend in the corrected position generally takes six weeks. Smokers and those in poor medical health may take longer to mend the bone. The biology of bone healing is about six weeks, that time frame can't be made quicker. What can be changed is the disability that one experiences while the bone is mending.
To minimize the chance of developing bunions, never force your feet into shoes that don?t fit. Choose a shoe that conforms to the shape of your foot. Opt for shoes with wider insteps, broad toes, and soft soles. Shoes that are short, tight, or sharply pointed should be avoided.