A bunion is enlargement of bone or tissue that develops at the joint that connects your big toe to your foot. The bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons of your feet normally are well-balanced to distribute your body's weight while standing, walking and running. When the joint, called the metatarsophalangeal joint, or MTP joint, experiences abnormal, prolonged stress in terms of weight distribution or squeezing of the toes within the shoe, the result can be the deformity called a bunion. Generally, a bunion develops when, as a response to prolonged stress, your big toe begins bending toward your foot's smaller toes and puts pressure on your MTP joint, forcing it to bulge outward (the term "bunion" comes from the Latin word for "enlargement"). There is no "standard" bunion, however, but rather a complex range of joint, bone and tendon abnormalities that can cause variation in each bunion's make-up.
No one single cause has been proven. There are a number of causes, and though shoes can exacerbate the problem, bunions do occur in societies that don?t wear them. We walk on the same type of ground all the time, whereas the human foot was actually designed to adapt to varying terrains. In a sense, a bunion is a type of repetitive strain injury. And like repetitive strain injury, some people are more prone to it than others. One theory, though it remains unproven, is that bunions are caused by one or both of the following. Because the foot wasn?t designed to constantly walk on a level surface, the ball of the big toe is slightly lower than the ball of the rest of your foot. When your foot meets the ground, the ball of the big toe is pushed up, and the big toe joint can?t bend as well as it was designed to. In order for the big toe joint to bend fully as you walk, your foot rolls slightly over to the side (this is also why people with hallux valgus often get hard skin). Also, if your midtarsal joint tends to move from side to side more than it does up and down, the arch in your foot collapses as your foot rolls in. This also makes you more prone to developing bunions. Such problems can be exacerbated by tight footwear. Slip-on shoes can make matters worse. Because they have to be tighter to stay on your feet, you automatically have less room for your toes. And with nothing to hold your foot in place, your toes often slide to the end where they?re exposed to lots of pressure. Likewise, high heels throw more weight onto the ball of the foot, putting your toes under further pressure. If you haven?t got a bunion by adulthood and you later develop one, there could be some underlying arthritis.
Bunions are an often painful condition that may become even more painful as extra bone and a fluid-filled sac grow at the base of your big toe. Some of the most frequently experienced signs and symptoms associated with bunions, besides pain, include redness in your affected area. Blistering over your bunion. Callus formation around your bunion. Bursitis. Nerve damage (numbness and/or sharp pains) in your involved area. Bunions may also cause pain within and below your first metatarsophalangeal, or MTP, joint. Your bunion may become further dislocated and unstable as it progresses and may overload your adjacent joints.
Bunions are readily apparent - the prominence is visible at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate the condition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformity and assess the changes that have occurred. Because bunions are progressive, they don?t go away, and will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike - some bunions progress more rapidly than others. Once your surgeon has evaluated your bunion, a treatment plan can be developed that is suited to your needs.
Non Surgical Treatment
Sometimes observation of the bunion is all that?s needed. To reduce the chance of damage to the joint, periodic evaluation and x-rays by your surgeon are advised. In many other cases, however, some type of treatment is needed. Early treatments are aimed at easing the pain of bunions, but they won?t reverse the deformity itself. These include changes in shoewear. Wearing the right kind of shoes is very important. Choose shoes that have a wide toe box and forgo those with pointed toes or high heels which may aggravate the condition. Padding. Pads placed over the area of the bunion can help minimize pain. These can be obtained from your surgeon or purchased at a drug store. Activity modifications. Avoid activity that causes bunion pain, including standing for long periods of time. Medications. Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation. Icing. Applying an ice pack several times a day helps reduce inflammation and pain. Injection therapy. Although rarely used in bunion treatment, injections of corticosteroids may be useful in treating the inflamed bursa (fluid-filled sac located around a joint) sometimes seen with bunions. Orthotic devices. In some cases, custom orthotic devices may be provided by the foot and ankle surgeon.
For very severe bunion deformities where there is considerable angulation between the first and second metatarsals an osteotomy of the metatarsal may not be sufficient and for these patients, the joint between the first metatarsal and the cuneiform bone is fused with screws, called the Lapidus procedure. This realigns the metatarsal completely and stabilizes the bone, preventing mobility and recurrent deformity.