A bunion (hallux valgus) is an enlargement of the bone or tissue around a joint at the base of the big toe or at the base of the little toe (in which case it is called a "bunionette" or "tailor's bunion"). Bunions often occur when the joint is stressed over a prolonged period. Ninety percent of bunions occur in women, primarily because women may be more likely to wear tight, pointed, and confining shoes. Bunions may be inherited as a family trait. Bunions may also result from arthritis, which often affects the big toe joint.
Bunions form when the normal balance of forces that is exerted on the joints and tendons of the foot becomes disrupted. This disruption can lead to instability in the joint and cause the deformity. Bunions are brought about by years of abnormal motion and pressure over the MTP joint. They are, therefore, a symptom of faulty foot development and are usually caused by the way we walk and our inherited foot type or our shoes.
The symptoms of hallux valgus usually center on the bunion. The bunion is painful. The severe hallux valgus deformity is also distressing to many and becomes a cosmetic problem. Finding appropriate shoe wear can become difficult, especially for women who want to be fashionable but have difficulty tolerating fashionable shoe wear. Finally, increasing deformity begins to displace the second toe upward and may create a situation where the second toe is constantly rubbing on the shoe.
X-rays are the best way to determine the amount of deformity of the MTP joint. Blood work may be required to rule out other diseases that may be associated with bunions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Other tests such as bone scans or MRI's are not usually required.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatments for bunions may include wearing shoes that fit and that have adequate toe room. Stretching shoes professionally to make them larger. Putting bunion pads over the bunion to cushion the pain. Avoiding activities that cause pain, such as being on your feet for long periods of time. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers when necessary, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen. Using ice to provide relief from inflammation and pain. Using custom-made orthotic devices.
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.