Bunions are one of the more serious conditions that can affect foot health. A bunion is actually a bone deformity of the big toe, where the joint at the base and side of the toe is enlarged, forcing the toe out of place. Left untreated, bunions worsen over time. The big toe angles in toward the rest of the toe, and can overlap the third toe (a condition known as Hallux Valgus). Or, it may move toward the second toe and twist or rotate (Hallus Abducto Valgus). Bunions can also lead to deformities like hammertoes. Bunions cause discomfort and pain, because the enlargement constantly rubs against footwear. The skin of the toe becomes red and tender. The larger a bunion grows, the more painful it is to walk. People with bunions can develop thickening skin on the bottom of the foot, bursitis or arthritis, and chronic pain.
Foot problems typically develop in early adulthood and get worse as the foot spreads with aging. For many people, bunions run in the family. They may be just one of several problems due to weak or poor foot structure. Bunions sometimes develop with arthritis. In people with leg length discrepancies, bunions usually form in the longer leg. Women are especially prone to developing bunions. Years of wearing tight, poorly fitting shoes especially high-heeled, pointed shoes can bring on bunions. Such shoes gradually push the foot bones into an unnatural shape.
Bunions starts as the big toe begins to deviate, developing a firm bump on the inside edge of the foot, at the base of the big toe. Initially, at this stage the bunion may not be painful. Later as the toes deviate more the bunion can become painful, there may be redness, some swelling, or pain at or near the joint. The pain is most commonly due to two things, it can be from the pressure of the footwear on the bunion or it can be due to an arthritis like pain from the pressure inside the joint. The motion of the joint may be restricted or painful. A hammer toe of the second toe is common with bunions. Corns and calluses can develop on the bunion, the big toe and the second toe due to the alterations in pressure from the footwear. The pressure from the great toe on the other toes can also cause corns to develop on the outside of the little toe or between the toes. The change in pressure on the toe may predispose to an ingrown nail.
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
The treatment of a bunion depends entirely on how uncomfortable it is. Realistically, there are only two ways to treat a bunion: either change the size and shape of the shoe or change the size and shape of the foot. Once a bunion gets to be irritating or painful and shoe wear is uncomfortable, surgery may be recommended.
Bunion surgery is most often a day case or one night in hospital. Surgery can be done under ankle block (patient awake) or general anaesthetic. It is best to rest with the foot elevated for the first 2 weeks after surgery. The foot is bandaged and a special sandal supplied by the hospital is worn for 6 weeks. Sensible shoes are to be worn for a further 6 weeks after the bandages are removed. It will take between 3-6 months for the swelling to go down. It will take 12 months before everything completely settles. It is also important to remember that not all bunion operations are entirely successful.