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.
In most cases, bunions are caused by genetics and incorrect foot mechanics. The foot may flatten too much, forcing the toe joint to move beyond normal range. In some cases, arthritis or an injury produces a bunion. In other cases people are simply born with extra bone near a toe joint. Tight fitting shoes further complicate the condition. Shoes such as high heels are particularly damaging to the toes. These shoes have a sloping foot piece and a narrow toe box. The slope causes the front of the foot to be pushed with force into the narrow toe box. The narrow toe box causes the toes to become squeezed together. Depending on factors such as duration of wearing constraining footwear, skeletal maturity, and individual factors, the toes can be- come permanently adapted to the new position and lead to the formation of a bunion. Once a bunion forms, the mechanics of the feet and toes are altered. Tendons begin to pull the toe into an abnormal position, and the problem tends to progress over time.
Alteration in alignment of the first toe. Pain in the 1st toe joint with movement. Restriction in range of demi pointe. Inflammation of the 1st toe joint. Rotation of the big toe so that the nail no longer faces upwards. Occasionally bruising of the toe nail occurs.
Looking at the problem area on the foot is the best way to discover a bunion. If it has the shape characteristic of a bunion, this is the first hint of a problem. The doctor may also look at the shape of your leg, ankle, and foot while you are standing, and check the range of motion of your toe and joints by asking you to move your toes in different directions A closer examination with weight-bearing X-rays helps your doctor examine the actual bone structure at the joint and see how severe the problem is. A doctor may ask about the types of shoes you wear, sports or activities (e.g., ballet) you participate in, and whether or not you have had a recent injury. This information will help determine your treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
The non-invasive treatments for bunions are many and include changes in footwear, icing the sore area, over the counter pain medications, orthotic shoe inserts, and weight management. If these conservative measures fail to arrest your pain and discomfort, your foot and ankle surgeon may recommend a bunionectomy or similar surgical procedure, depending on your condition.
If other treatments don?t help and your bunion is very painful, you may be referred to an orthopaedic or a podiatric surgeon for assessment. There are over 130 different operations that can be carried out to treat bunions. The simplest operations are called bunionectomies. The majority of the operations aim to correct the alignment of your big toe. This will narrow your foot and straighten out your big toe joint as much as possible. An operation won?t return your foot back to normal, but most people find that surgery reduces their symptoms and improves the shape of their foot. The operation your surgeon will advise you to have will depend on how severe your bunion is and whether or not you have arthritis.
The best protection against developing bunions is to protect and care for your feet every day. Avoid tight and narrow-fitting shoes. Limit your use of high heels. Wear comfortable shoes with adequate space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Getting treatment for very flat or very high-arched feet (if you are experiencing symptoms) will give your feet the proper support and help maintain stability and balance.