The original definition of a bunion was a bursa (a fluid-filled sac) on the side of the foot near the base of the big toe. The bursa was caused by a chronic friction of the patient's first metatarsal bone (the bone to which the big toe attaches) and the shoe. Few people go by this definition any longer. Today most people consider a bunion to be the enlarged bone on the side of the foot that typically caused the bursa. Along with this bump, there is usually an associated mis-alignment of the big toe, with it leaning in towards the second toe. In medical jargon, the term for a bunion is "Hallux Abducto Valgus," or "HAV" for short. Though the condition is really slightly different, it may also be known as "Hallux Valgus." Bunions are usually a progressive problem, and can make it difficult to find shoes that fit. The condition is often quite uncomfortable, not only because of the pressure the shoes exert on the bump, but because of the other factors associated with bunions, which we shall discuss shortly. This is usually a progressive problem, and can make it difficult to find shoes that fit. The condition is often quite uncomfortable, not only because of the pressure the shoes exert on the bump, but because of the other factors associated with bunions, which we shall discuss shortly.
Women traditionally have a higher rate of bunions, which is to be expected, since it is they who have traditionally worn shoes with high heels, a narrow toe box, or whatever fashion dictates from year to year. However, men can suffer from bunions as well, as can anyone for whom the right (or wrong) conditions exist, poor foot mechanics, improper footwear, occupational hazards, health and genetic predisposition. Finally, bunions have long been a condition associated with the elderly, and although they often appear in conjunction with inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis (which is often associated with age), they can strike at any point in life, including adolescence.
It is unusual to have much bunion or hallux valgus pain when out of shoe wear or at rest. There are exceptions to this and in particular if symptoms have been ignored during the day and the bunion has become very painful during the day then some symptoms may be present at night. The pain from the region of the great toe at rest or at night is however more often a symptom of an arthritic big toe (hallux rigidus) rather than a straightforward bunion. To confuse matters these two conditions can sometimes coexist. Bunion or hallux valgus pain is most often present when walking in enclosed shoes. There may be little bunion pain in sandals or barefoot. It is unusual to have much bunion pain when not putting weight on the foot or at night. If there is bunion pain at rest or at night then there may also be arthritic change within the toe.
Although bunions are usually obvious from the pain and unusual shape of the toe, further investigation is often advisable. Your doctor will usually send you for X-rays to determine the extent of the deformity. Blood tests may be advised to see if some type of arthritis could be causing the pain. Based on this evaluation, your doctor can determine whether you need orthopaedic shoes, medication, surgery or other treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
Except in severe cases, treatment for bunions is usually given to first relieve the pain and pressure, and then to stop the bunion from growing. Conservative treatment for bunions may include protective padding, typically with felt material, to prevent friction and reduce inflammation. Removing corns and calluses, which contribute to irritation. Precisely fitted footwear that?s designed to accommodate the existing bunion. Orthotic devices to stabilize the joint and correctly position the foot for walking and standing. Exercises to prevent stiffness and encourage joint mobility. Nighttime splints that help align the toes and joint properly. In some cases, conservative treatment might not be able to prevent further damage. This depends on the size of the bunion, the degree of misalignment, and the amount of pain experienced. Bunion surgery, called a bunionectomy, may be recommended in severe cases. This surgery removes the bunion and realigns the toe.
A bunion is considered moderate when it pushes against the second toe. In fact, over time, the big toe can force itself under the second toe, causing it to buckle and form a "hammer toe." If non-invasive treatment is not effective, and the joint is still causing discomfort, the doctor may suggest a bunionectomy to realign the big toe. With this procedure, the bunion head is moved over realigning the angled great toe joint back to a normal position. The tendons and ligaments are also balanced for a more normal pull on the toe. In moderate bunion cases, you will experience a relatively rapid recovery. The procedure allows for immediate weight on the foot in a boot and return to tennis shoes in about a month. The choice of procedure best for each patient depends on the deformity size, the stiffness of the 1st metatarsal and the ease of realignment of the 1st metatarsal during the clinical exam.
If the diagnosis is made early on, such as in preadolescence, bunion development can be slowed and in some cases arrested with the proper supportive shoe gear and custom functional shoe inserts (orthotics). Avoidance of certain athletic activities with improper shoe fit and toe pressure can prevent the symptoms that occur with bunions.