A bunion is a bony growth in the lower joint of your big toe. It usually forms where the big toe pushes over against the second toe, forcing the joint to stick out. As a weight-bearing joint, this can be extremely painful. Calluses and blisters can form on the edge of the bunion, doubling the pain. This crippling foot affliction usually gets worse with time. Surgery for bunions can be complicated, expensive, painful and does not guarantee a well-formed foot as the outcome.
Long periods of pressure from a tight-fitting shoe can cause the inflammation and the pain. This often happens when the big toe is forced into a position where it presses inward and overlaps the second toe. The base of the big toe then is pushed beyond normal alignment of the foot, resulting in the prominence typical of a bunion.
Patients 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.
The doctor considers a bunion as a possible diagnosis when noting the symptoms described above. The anatomy of the foot, including joint and foot function, is assessed during the examination. Radiographs (X-ray films) of the foot can be helpful to determine the integrity of the joints of the foot and to screen for underlying conditions, such as arthritis or gout. X-ray films are an excellent method of calculating the alignment of the toes when taken in a standing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
The initial treatment of a bunion should be non-operative. Symptoms can often be greatly improved with simple non-operative interventions. Non-operative treatment may include properly fitted shoes, Properly fitting comfort shoes with a wide non-constrictive toe box, especially one that is made out of a soft material such as leather, can be quite helpful in reducing the irritation over the prominent bunion. In some instances, it is helpful to have a shoemaker stretch the inside aspect of the shoe. Jamming a foot with a bunion into a constrictive shoe will likely lead to the development of uncomfortable symptoms. Bunion pads, Medial bunion pads may also be helpful in decreasing the symptoms associated with the bunion. These pads can be obtained at many drugstores. Essentially, they serve to lessen the irritation over the medial prominence and, thereby, decrease the associated inflammation This should be combined with comfortable non-constrictive shoes. A toe spacer placed between the great toe and the second toe can help to reduce the bunion deformity and, thereby, decrease the stretch on the medial tissue and the irritation associated with the bunion. Toe spacers can be obtained at most drug stores or online. Soft shoe inserts. Over-the-counter accommodative orthotics may also help bunion symptoms. This product is particularly helpful if bunion symptoms include pain that is under the ball of the foot. Orthotics with a slight medial longitudinal arch may be helpful for patients that have associated flatfoot deformity. These can be purchased at many sports stores, outdoors stores, or pharmacies. Bunion splints have often been used to treat the symptoms associated with hallux valgus. These splints are typically worn at night in an effort to reduce the bunion deformity. There is no evidence to suggest that these splints decrease the rate at which bunion deformities occur. There is also no evidence that clearly supports their effectiveness. However, some patients report good relief with the use of these splints.
For severe bunions, outpatient surgery may be recommended. Within hours after surgery, you?ll be on your way home and ready for recovery. Your foot will be bandaged following surgery and placed in a surgical shoe which allows you to remain mobile. Immediate weight bearing without the use of casting or crutches is standard post- operative recovery for bunions. In most cases, the majority of healing should occur within a few weeks and you can resume normal activity within a short period of time. Bunion surgery can both reduce pain and improve the appearance of your feet. After surgery it is important to see your podiatrist as scheduled and follow all recovery instructions.