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.
Bunions are not inherited, but do tend to run in families. What is inherited is the poor or faulty foot type, that mechanically can lead to the instability around the joint that will eventually lead to bunions, how soon, how quickly and how bad they are or become is assumed to be very dependant on the footwear. A number of other factors are known to play a role in the cause of bunions and hallux valgus. Bunions can follow foot injuries and develop in those with neuromuscular problems. Those with flat feet or pronated feet appear to be more prone to the instability about the joint and have a higher incidence of bunions. Some activities (eg ballet dancing) puts added pressure on the joint and may increase the chance of bunions developing.
No matter what stage your bunion is in, you can be in pain. Though bunions take years to develop, you can experience pain at any stage. Some people don?t have bunion pain at all. Pain from a bunion can be severe enough to keep you from walking comfortably in normal shoes. The skin and deeper tissue around the bunion also may become swollen or inflamed.
Bunions are readily apparent - the prominence is visible at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate the condition, the foot and ankle surgeon 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. Once your surgeon has evaluated your bunion, a treatment plan can be developed that is suited to your needs.
Non Surgical Treatment
Technically, you can only ?fix a bunion? with surgery, but many patients don't need it to get symptom relief. In its early stages, the progression of the bunion deformity can often be dramatically slowed. Removing pressure from the bunion area and balancing the tendon and ligament alignment are the primary goals of mild bunion treatment. For example, it is important to wear shoes that have sufficient room in the toe area to accommodate the bunion - that means softer leather shoes to mold to the deformity and platform type heels for better foot and arch support. Your doctor may also advise the use of pads to protect the bunion from shoe pressure. Customized shoe inserts, called orthotics are made exclusively for your foot and are often used to correct the alignment of the arch and big toe joint. In some cases, physicians also use anti-inflammatory creams around the bunion.
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.