A bunion is a bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of your big toe. A bunion forms when your big toe pushes against your next toe, forcing the joint of your big toe to get bigger and stick out. The skin over the bunion might be red and sore. Wearing tight, narrow shoes might cause bunions or might make them worse. Bunions can also develop as a result of an inherited structural defect, stress on your foot or a medical condition, such as arthritis. Smaller bunions (bunionettes) also can develop on the joint of your little toes.
Bunions have a number of causes, primarily genetics and bad choices in footwear. We inherit traits like flat feet, abnormal bone structure, and loose ligaments and tendons from our parents. When our feet are weakened by these traits and we stuff them into high heels or shoes which don?t support our feet correctly, the repeated stress on the front of the foot may contribute to the formation of a bunion. Other contributing factors are jobs that demand a lot of time standing, obesity, and sudden hormonal changes and weight gain, as in pregnancy. Unfortunately, bunions can lead to many other foot conditions as well. The joint behind the big toe carries much of your body weight and when the bunion makes it sore, you shift your weight onto other areas of the foot. That?s why we frequently see crossover toes, overlapping toes, hammer toes, corns, calluses, and ingrown toenails accompanying bunions. As pain in your foot increases, you?ll also reduce your activity, becoming more sedentary, which has its own quality-of-life issues.
Bunions may or may not cause symptoms. A frequent symptom is foot pain in the involved area when walking or wearing shoes that is relieved by resting. A bunion causes enlargement of the base of the big toe and is usually associated with positioning of the big toe toward the smaller toes. This leads to intermittent or chronic pain at the base of the big toe. Bunions that cause marked pain are often associated with swelling of the soft tissues, redness, and local tenderness. It is important to note that, in post-pubertal men and post-menopausal women, pain at the base of the big toe can be caused by gout and gouty arthritis that is similar to the pain caused by bunions.
Generally, observation is adequate to diagnose a bunion, as the bump is obvious on the side of the foot or base of the big toe. However, your physician may order X-rays that will show the extent of the deformity of the foot.
Non Surgical Treatment
Nonsurgical treatments such as rest and wearing loose (wider) shoes or sandals can often relieve the irritating pain of bunions. Walking shoes may have some advantages, for example, over high-heeled styles that pressure the sides of the foot. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin, Ecotrin), ibuprofen (Advil, Children's Advil/Motrin, Medipren, Motrin, Nuprin, PediaCare Fever) and naproxen (Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn, Aleve), can help to ease inflammation as well as pain. Local cold-pack application is sometimes helpful as well. To reduce tension on the inner part of the joint of a bunion, stretching exercises are sometimes prescribed. Depending on the structure of the foot and severity of the bunion, custom insole orthotics can slow the progression of the bunion and address underlying biomechanical causes. Inflammation of the joint at the base of the big toe can often be relieved by a local injection of cortisone. Any signs of skin breakdown or infection can require antibiotics. When the measures above are effective in relieving symptoms, patients should avoid irritating the bunion again by optimizing footwear and foot care.
Larger bunions often require the surgeon to move the entire bone over (1st metatarsal). This is accomplished by a cut or fusion at the bottom of the bone. The former technique, is called the Lapidus bunionectomy. Additionally, the repositioned bone is held in place with one or two surgical screws.
Because bunions develop slowly, taking care of your feet during childhood and early adulthood can pay off later in life. Keep track of the shape of your feet as they develop over time, especially if foot problems run in your family. Exercising your feet can strengthen them. Learn to pick up small objects, like a pencil or pebble, with your toes. Wear shoes that fit properly and don't cramp or pinch your toes. Women should avoid shoes with very high heels or pointed toes.