A bunion or hallux valgus is a prominence on the inner border of the foot effecting the big toe and at the level of the 1st metatarso-phalangeal (MTP) joint. The bunion prominence which is seen and felt on the inner border of the foot is not due to any growth of bone but is due to the 1st metatarsal bone. With a bunion this has become more prominent than normal because the 1st metatarsal has moved away from its immediate neighbour the 2nd metatarsal. This widens the forefoot thus producing the bunion. An inevitability of the splaying of the foot which occurs with a bunion or hallux valgus is that the great toe itself is then pulled across in the opposite direction (towards the second toe) by the still normally located tendons of the big toe. A bunion or hallux valgus is commonly confused with hallux interphalangeus (where the deformity lies more distally and which tends to be less problematic). Here there is no increase in the space between the metatarsals, and the deformity lies in the shape of the phalynx bone.
It is thought that the primary cause of bunions is a mechanical instability in the big toe joint. There are a number of different reasons as to why this may happen. Bunions tend to run in families so a person with a family history of bunions has an increased risk of developing them. Factors that are known to increase the risk of bunions include wearing improperly fitting shoes (particularly narrow and/or high-heeled shoes). Certain arthritic conditions and ligament disorders. Age (the incidence of bunions increases with age). Being flatfooted with feet that roll inwards (over pronation). Past injury (trauma) to the foot. Nerve conditions affecting the foot. Bunions most commonly affect women (approximately 90% of cases) and are less common in people who do not regularly wear shoes.
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 take x-rays 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.
When an x-ray of a bunion is taken, there is usually angulation between the first metatarsal bone and the bones of the big toe. There may also be angulation between the first and second metatarsal bones. These angular irregularities are the essence of most bunions. In general, surgery for bunions aims to correct such angular deformities.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of hallux valgus nearly always starts with adapting shoe wear to fit the foot. In the early stages of hallux valgus, converting from a shoe with a pointed toe to a shoe with a wide forefoot (or toe box) may arrest the progression of the deformity. Since the pain that arises from the bunion is due to pressure from the shoe, treatment focuses on removing the pressure that the shoe exerts on the deformity. Wider shoes reduce the pressure on the bunion. Bunion pads may reduce pressure and rubbing from the shoe. There are also numerous devices, such as toe spacers, that attempt to splint the big toe and reverse the deforming forces.
If bunions are causing severe foot pain or inflammation and swelling that limits daily activities and doesn't improve with rest, medication and comfortable shoes, surgery may be required. More than 100 surgical options are available for painful bunions. Some realign the foot's anatomy by cutting notches from the metatarsal bone or the bone of the big toe. The bones can then grow back without the slant that promotes bunion growth. The operation is usually done on an outpatient basis, but afterward, you probably will have to stay off your feet for a few weeks. Recovery takes about six weeks. Surgery is not recommended for a bunion that doesn't cause pain.