Even though bunions are a common foot deformity, there are misconceptions about them. Many people may unnecessarily suffer the pain of bunions for years before seeking treatment. A bunion (also referred to as hallux valgus or hallux abducto valgus) is often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. But a bunion is more than that. The visible bump actually reflects changes in the bony framework of the front part of the foot. The big toe leans toward the second toe, rather than pointing straight ahead. This throws the bones out of alignment, producing the bunion?s ?bump.? Bunions are a progressive disorder. They begin with a leaning of the big toe, gradually changing the angle of the bones over the years and slowly producing the characteristic bump, which becomes increasingly prominent. Symptoms usually appear at later stages, although some people never have symptoms.
While the precise cause is not known, there seem to be inherited (genetic) factors that lead to abnormal foot function like overpronation that can predispose to the development of bunions. This is especially common when bunions occur in younger individuals. This abnormal biomechanics can lead to instability of the metatarsal phalangeal joint and muscle imbalance resulting in the deformity. Although shoe gear doesn’t directly cause a bunion, it can certainly make the bunion painful and swollen. Other less common causes of bunion deformities include trauma (sprains, fractures, and nerve injuries), neuromuscular disorders (polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) and limb-length discrepancies (one leg shorter than the other) where the longer leg develops the bunion.
SymptomsOften the bunion is not painful and the individual leads a normal active life. Other times the bunion can be very painful, even debilitating. Pain is usually very achy and typically radiates to the toes and along the arch of the foot. Due to the abnormal positioning of the bones in the foot, sharp nerve pains could also be present.
Orthopaedic surgeons diagnose bunions on the basis of physical examination and weight bearing x-rays. Two angles are assessed, the intermetatarsal angle, that is between the first and second metatarsals (the bones that lead up to the base of the toes). If this angle exceeds 9? (the angle found in the healthy foot) it is abnormal and referred to as metatarsus primus varus. the hallux valgus angle, that is, the angle of the big toe as it drifts toward the small toe. An angle that exceeds 15? is considered to be a sign of pathology.
Non Surgical Treatment
Sometimes observation of the bunion is all that’s needed. A periodic office evaluation and x-ray examination can determine if your bunion deformity is advancing, thereby reducing your chance of irreversible damage to the joint. In many other cases however some type of treatment is needed. Early treatments are aimed at limiting the progression of the deformity and easing the pain of bunion or an associated joint. Conservative treatments such as orthotics can achieve this but they won’t reverse the deformity itself. These options include changes in shoewear. Padding. Pads placed over the area of the bunion can help minimise pain, but will not stop the progression of the bunion. Activity modifications. Avoid activity that causes bunion pain, this could include standing for long periods of time. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may help to relieve pain. Icing. Applying an ice pack several times a day helps reduce inflammation and pain. Orthotic devices. Orthotics are the mainstay of non-surgical treatment for bunions.
The type of surgical procedure performed depends upon the severity of the bunion, the individual?s age, general health, activity level, and the condition of the bones and connective tissue. Other factors may influence the choice of a procedure used. Mild bunion. For this type of surgery, the surgeon may remove the enlarged portion of bone and realign the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the joint. Moderate bunion. For a moderate bunion, the surgeon may cut the bone and shift it to its proper position. Whether or not the bone is cut depends on the severity and location of the deformity. In addition, the surrounding tendons and ligaments may need to be repositioned. Severe bunion. For a severe bunion, surgery may involve removing the enlarged portion of the bone, cutting and realigning the bone, and correcting the position of the tendons and ligaments. Arthritic bunion or big toe joint. If the joint is damaged beyond repair, as is commonly seen in arthritis, it may need to be reconstructed or replaced with an artificial joint. Joint replacement implants may be used in the reconstruction of the big toe joint.