A bunion (hallux abducto valgus) is a bony lump or enlargement that forms in the joint (metatarsal phalangeal joint) at the base of the big toe. The big toe points toward the other toes (lateral deviation) as the bunion progresses. The joint and surrounding tissue becomes inflamed and painful. Occasionally bunions can also form at the joint at the base of the smallest (fifth) toe. They are called a tailor's bunion or bunionette. Bunions can be accompanied by bursitis (inflammation of a small fluid-filled sac adjacent to the joint). With an advanced bunion the big toe may be so deformed that it has to lie over or under the second toe. In this situation it hurts to walk or wear any kind of shoe. About one in three people in most Western countries will get a bunion. They are about ten times more common in women than in men. Older people are more often affected than younger people, although bunions do occur in children with misaligned feet. Bunions should not be confused with gout or arthritis, which can also cause inflammation, deformity and pain around the toes and feet.
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.
If you have a bunion, you may have pain or stiffness of your big toe joint, swelling of your big toe joint, difficulty walking, difficulty finding shoes that fit. These symptoms may be caused by conditions other than bunions, but if you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor.
Diagnosis begins with a careful history and physical examination by your doctor. This will usually include a discussion about shoe wear and the importance of shoes in the development and treatment of the condition. X-rays will probably be suggested. This allows your doctor to measure several important angles made by the bones of the feet to help determine the appropriate treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
Early treatment of bunions is centered on providing symptomatic relief. Switching to a shoe with a rounder, deeper toe box and made of a softer more pliable leather will often provide immediate relief. The use of pads and cushions to reduce the pressure over the bone can also be helpful for mild bunion deformities. Functional foot orthotics, by controlling abnormal pronation, reduces the deforming forces leading to bunions in the first place. These may help reduce pain in mild bunion deformities and slow the progression of the deformity. When these conservative measures fail to provided adequate relief, surgical correction is indicated.
Bunion surgery is most often done on an outpatient or day-surgery basis, usually with a local anesthetic technique called an ankle block. The surgery typically takes an hour or two to perform. Following your surgery, you will stay in the Recovery Room for several hours while the anesthetic wears off. For your safety, you will be required to have someone to drive you home. You should keep in mind that any surgery carries with it very small-but-possible risks of complications such as allergic reaction to anesthesia, bleeding and infection.
There are some steps that may help prevent, or at least slow, the progression of bunions. Avoid shoes with a narrow toe box. If your foot flattens excessively, make sure you wear supportive shoes, and if necessary, get custom orthotics from your podiatrist. See your podiatrist at the first signs or symptoms of a bunion deformity, as early treatment may stop or slow its progression.