A bunion is an enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe (the metatarsophalangeal or MTP joint) that forms when the bone or tissue moves out of place. The toe bends inward at an awkward angle, which usually creates a large bone lump. If not treated, bunions can become very painful since this area supports a lot of body weight. The MTP joint can also become sore and stiff. Bunions can occur on the outside of the little toe as well.
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.
Symptoms often include pain, swelling, and abnormal position of the first toe. The technical term for bunions is ?hallux valgus? (HV). This refers to the first toe or hallux moving away or abducting from the middle of the foot and then twisting in such a way that the inside edge actually touches the ground and the outside edge turns upward. This term describes the deviation of the toe toward the outside part of the foot. If left untreated, bunions can worsen over time and cause considerable difficulty in walking, discomfort, and skin problems such as corns. In some cases, a small bursa (fluid-filled sac) near the joint becomes inflamed. This condition is known as bursitis and can cause additional redness, swelling, and pain. Less frequently, bunions occur at the base of the fifth toe. When this occurs, it is called a ?tailor?s bunion? or bunionette.
A thorough medical history and physical exam by a physician is necessary for the proper diagnosis of bunions and other foot conditions. X-rays can help confirm the diagnosis by showing the bone displacement, joint swelling, and, in some cases, the overgrowth of bone that characterizes bunions. Doctors also will consider the possibility that the joint pain is caused by or complicated by Arthritis, which causes destruction of the cartilage of the joint. Gout, which causes the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joint. Tiny fractures of a bone in the foot or stress fractures. Infection. Your doctor may order additional tests to rule out these possibilities.
Non Surgical Treatment
Somtimes observation of the bunion is all that?s needed. A periodic exam and x-ray can determine if your bunion deformity is advancing. Measures can then be taken to reduce the possibility of permanent damage to your joint. In many cases, however, some type of treatment is needed. Conservative treatments may help reduce the pain of a bunion. These options include changes in shoe-wear. Wearing the right kind of shoes is very important. Choose shoes with a large toe box and avoid narrow high heeled shoes which may aggravate the condition. Padding. Pads can be placed over the area to reduce shoe pressure. Medication. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may help reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Injection therapy. Injection of steroid medication may be used to treat inflammation that causes pain and swelling especially if a fluid filled sac has developed about the joint. Orthotic shoe inserts. By controlling the faulty mechanical forces the foot may be stabilized so that the bunion becomes asymptomatic.
Surgery may be considered if your symptoms are severe and don't respond to non-surgical treatments. The type of surgery will depend on the level of deformity, the severity of your symptoms, your age, and any other associated medical conditions.