A bunion is a bony protrusion on the side of the big toe or in some less common cases on the outside of the small toe. The protrusion at the joint of the base of the toe can become irritated, swollen and painful. As the protrusion becomes larger the toe bends toward the second toe causing further sources of irritation. There appears to be multiple causes of a bunion. Genetically the foot may be shaped such that normal activity puts excessive pressure on the big toe eventually causing a bunion. Some suggest footwear that does not fit properly may also put excessive pressure and cause a bunion. The protrusion may be excessive bone structure or a fluid sac called the bursa that becomes inflamed. In any case the deformity of the toe makes it difficult to find proper fitting footwear, is not a pleasant sight, and can be very painful.
Bunions tend to run in families, but that does not mean that if you have a bunion, your children will inevitably have one too. The connection may be that bunions are a bit commoner in people with unusually flexible joints, and this can be hereditary. They are also commoner in women than in men. Bunions do occur in cultures in which shoes are not worn, but much less commonly. Shoes which squeeze the big toe or do not fit properly, or have an excessively high heel, may worsen the deformity, particularly in people who are at higher risk anyway.
Bunions are an often painful condition that may become even more painful as extra bone and a fluid-filled sac grow at the base of your big toe. Some of the most frequently experienced signs and symptoms associated with bunions, besides pain, include redness in your affected area. Blistering over your bunion. Callus formation around your bunion. Bursitis. Nerve damage (numbness and/or sharp pains) in your involved area. Bunions may also cause pain within and below your first metatarsophalangeal, or MTP, joint. Your bunion may become further dislocated and unstable as it progresses and may overload your adjacent joints.
Before examining your foot, the doctor will ask you about the types of shoes you wear and how often you wear them. He or she also will ask if anyone else in your family has had bunions or if you have had any previous injury to the foot. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose a bunion just by examining your foot. During this exam, you will be asked to move your big toe up and down to see if you can move it as much as you should be able to. The doctor also will look for signs of redness and swelling and ask if the area is painful. Your doctor may want to order X-rays of the foot to check for other causes of pain, to determine whether there is significant arthritis and to see if the bones are aligned properly.
Non Surgical Treatment
Podiatrists will treat bunions conservatively, using paddings and orthotics, which are devices that are made to protect the joint or deviate pressure away from it. Sometimes bunions will develop overlying callus or corns. These can be removed by a podiatrist, but if the area is irritated again by wearing ill-fitting footwear, the corn will grow back. Most people with this condition have flat feet, so arch supports are often recommended.
If these methods fail, then surgery may be suggested. Basically, bunion surgery is performed to improve function or to prevent pain from occurring. When surgery is delayed in a symptomatic foot, greater amounts of arthritis can develop and the more complicated surgery can become. Surgery is performed to improve alignment and function to the big toe joint. The large bump is removed and, sometimes, a cut is made into the bone, to move it to a more normal position. Screws, pins and wires can be used beneath the skin, to improve healing and results. Healing can range from 3-12 weeks, depending on the procedure.