A hallux abducto valgus deformity, commonly called a bunion, is a deformity characterized by medial deviation of the great toe, often erroneously described as an enlargement of bone or tissue around the joint at the head of the big toe. There is disagreement among medical professionals about the cause of bunions; some see them as primarily caused by the long-term use of shoes, particularly tight-fitting shoes with pointed toes, while others believe that the problem stems from genetic factors that are exacerbated by shoe use. Bunions occur when pressure is applied to the side of the big toe (hallux) forcing it inwards towards, and sometimes under or over, the other toes (angulation). As pressure is applied, the tissues surrounding the joint may become swollen and tender. In a survey of people from cultures that do not wear shoes, no cases of bunions were found, lending credence to the hypothesis that bunions are caused by ill-fitting shoes. The bump itself is partly due to the swollen bursal sac or an osseous (bony) anomaly on the metatarsophalangeal joint. The larger part of the bump is a normal part of the head of the first metatarsal bone that has tilted sideways to stick out at its top.
Bunions are most widely considered to be due to an imbalance in the forces that is exerted across the joint during walking. The resulting abnormal motion and pressure over the joint, over many years (combined with poor fitting footwear) leads to instability in the joint causing hallux valgus and bunions. Bunions are really only a symptom of faulty foot mechanics and are usually caused by a combination of the way we walk, the foot we inherit and inappropriate footwear use.
The most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain on the side of the foot. Shoes will typically aggravate bunions. Stiff leather shoes or shoes with a tapered toe box are the prime offenders. This is why bunion pain is most common in women whose shoes have a pointed toe box. The bunion site will often be slightly swollen and red from the constant rubbing and irritation of a shoe. Occasionally, corns can develop between the 1st and 2nd toe from the pressure the toes rubbing against each other. On rare occasions, the joint itself can be acutely inflamed from the development of a sac of fluid over the bunion called a bursa. This is designed to protect and cushion the bone. However, it can become acutely inflamed, a condition referred to as bursitis.
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
Making sure that shoes don't press against the bunion worsening the pain is the first line of treatment. Protecting the bunion with felt or foam pads or devices to separate the first and second toes at night may be recommended as may cutting a hole in a pair of old, comfortable shoes to take the pressure off the bony protrusion. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be recommended to help relieve toe pain. In rare cases, physicians may administer injections of corticosteroids to treat the inflamed bursa (fluid-filled sac located in a joint) sometimes seen with bunions. Custom orthotic devices are another option that may be beneficial in some cases.
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.
The best way to prevent a bunion is to be proactive in the truest sense of the word. Go over your risk factors. If you know that you pronate or have any problem with the mechanics of your foot, talk with a podiatric physician about the correct types of shoes and/or orthoses for you. If you are not sure whether you have such a problem, the podiatric professional can analyze your foot, your stride and the wear pattern of your shoes, and give you an honest evaluation. Has anyone in your family complained of bunions? Does your job involve a lot of standing, walking or other stress on your feet or toes? Do you exercise? If so, what kind of shoes do you wear for sports? For work? For school? Do you ever feel pain in your toes, or have you noticed a pronounced or increased redness on your big toe, or on the other side of your foot, near your little toe? Make sure you let the doctor know. Keep track of whether any relatives have suffered from arthritis or other joint problems, as well as anything else that might be relevant to your podiatric health. If you?ve suffered sports injuries previously, let the doctor know about that, too. In other words, try to give your health care professional the most honest and thorough background you can, so that he or she can make the best evaluation possible.