In medical terms, a bunion, or hallux valgus, is a bony bump that forms around the joint at the base of your big toe. This joint is one of the most important parts of your foot, bearing most of your body weight. The bony bump is caused by the head of the first metatarsal bone (the long bone) behind the big toe angling out from the foot. This causes the joint to swell, pushing the big toe in towards the adjacent toes. The result is pain on the side of your foot, arch pain, and discomfort throughout the adjacent toes as well.
Bunions are most often caused by an inherited faulty mechanical structure of the foot. This faulty structure causes the drifting of the great toe and the bone to become prominent on the side of the foot. The skin then gets pinches by this bony prominence and the shoe. Therefore in most cases bunions are not caused by tight shoes but are made more painful by tight shoes. End stage bunions may become painful both in and out of shoes.
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.
When an x-ray of a bunion is taken, there is usually angulation between the first metatarsal bone and the bones of the big toe. There may also be angulation between the first and second metatarsal bones. These angular irregularities are the essence of most bunions. In general, surgery for bunions aims to correct such angular deformities.
Non Surgical Treatment
Wear comfortable shoes that don’t squeeze your toes together. Sandals are ideal in warm weather. Cushioning the bunion with a donut-shaped bunion pad sold at drugstores can prevent any direct rubbing against your shoes. Have your shoes stretched to give your foot more room or consider switching to footwear customized to relieve pressure on the affected area. Soak your foot in warm water to help lessen the pain after a day on your feet. Apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling of painful and inflamed bunions. Take aspirin or ibuprofen for the inflammation and pain, and try supplementing with anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger and turmeric (these work more slowly than the drugs). See a podiatrist for specially fitted shoes or orthotic devices that may help. Sometimes, surgery is necessary. Seek a second opinion before scheduling any operation.
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.