A bunion (from the Latin 'bunion', meaning enlargement) is a protuberance of bone around the big toe joint. The enlargement can also occur at the outside of the foot, at the base of the little toe. This is called a tailor's bunion or bunionette. As a bunion deformity progresses with time, an enlargement increases in size behind the big toe, making shoe wear difficult and painful. Consequently, the big toe will shift position and move over or under the toes next to the big toe. Bunions can occur at any age between childhood and the golden years. The occurrence of bunions are far more prominent in women than men. Ill fitting narrow shoes and shoes with heels tend to aggravate bunions and cause them to occur at a higher incidence.
Bunions develop when excess pressure is placed on the tendons and joints of the foot. As a result, the joints can become deformed and unstable. After years of pressure, the MTP joint suffers, leading to abnormal movement and bunions. Bunions are symptomatic of poor foot development (which can be genetic), walking habits, shoes, foot type and other reasons. Women often develop bunions as a result of tight shoes that squeeze the toes together. Bunions can also result from foot injuries, congenital deformities and neuromuscular disorders. Flat foot and low arch problems are often precursors to bunions, as are problems with serious arthritis or inflammatory joint disease. An overlap of the first and second toes often causes irritation and corns and can eventually lead to bunions. Poor motion of the big toe can also be a factor.
With the positional change of the hallux, pain is a common occurrence. As the foot goes through the gait cycle the hallux plays an integral role as the body's weight transmits through during propulsion. With this in mind, it easy to see how the change in the hallux joints (metatarsal phalangeal joint and the proximal interphalangeal) would cause joint narrowing and early degeneration of the articular cartilage. In addition, two small bones (ossicles) found underneath just behind the joint will start placing extra pressure on the metatarsal. Along with bony changes, there are many soft tissue changes as the hallux and metatarsal reposition, which causes added strain to other bony structures and can accelerate the problem.
Physical examination typically reveals a prominence on the inside (medial) aspect of the forefoot. This represents the bony prominence associated with the great toe joint ( the medial aspect of the first metatarsal head). The great toe is deviated to the outside (laterally) and often rotated slightly. This produces uncovering of the joint at the base of the big toe (first metatarsophalangeal joint subluxation). In mild and moderate bunions, this joint may be repositioned back to a neutral position (reduced) on physical examination. With increased deformity or arthritic changes in the first MTP joint, this joint cannot be fully reduced. Patients may also have a callus at the base of their second toe under their second metatarsal head in the sole of the forefoot. Bunions are often associated with a long second toe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Conservative Treatment. Apply a commercial, nonmedicated bunion pad around the bony prominence. Wear shoes with a wide and deep toe box. If your bunion becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling. Avoid high-heeled shoes over two inches tall. See your podiatric physician if pain persists. Orthotics. Shoe inserts may be useful in controlling foot function and may reduce symptoms and prevent worsening of the deformity. Padding & Taping. Often the first step in a treatment plan, padding the bunion minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping helps keep the foot in a normal position, thus reducing stress and pain. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections are often prescribed to ease the acute pain and inflammations caused by joint deformities. Physical Therapy. Often used to provide relief of the inflammation and from bunion pain. Ultrasound therapy is a popular technique for treating bunions and their associated soft tissue involvement.
There are many different procedures described to correct bunions. You should be aware that usually just shaving the bunion off, although it is attractive and minimally invasive, is usually not enough. Initially the foot will look much better but with time the bunion will recur. Arthrodesis refers to surgery performed on the great toe joint where the joint is fused. This is usually reserved for people with very severe deformities when other surgical options are impossible. Bunionectomy refers to the simple removal of the bunion itself. This is seldom used because it doesn?t correct the underlying bone problems. Osteomety is the commonest surgical procedure. The bone is cut and the bones realigned and pinned in place until they heal so that the underlying bone deformity is corrected and the bunion will not recur. The resection arstplasty refers to the removal of the toe joint and this creates a flexible scar that functions as the joint instead. In the past there has been some interest in implanting artificial joints but this has fallen out of favor due to the fact that they usually do not hold up with the normal every day stress that people put their feet through.
The best way to reduce your chances of developing bunions is to wear shoes that fit properly. Shoes that are too tight or have high heels can force your toes together. Bunions are rare in populations that don?t wear shoes. Make sure your shoes are the correct size and that there's enough room to move your toes freely. It's best to avoid wearing shoes with high heels or pointy toes.