The term bunion as it is popularly used describes a variety of deformities involving a painful prominence and swelling at the base of the big toe. Orthopaedists use additional terms to describe the different deformities. The condition in which the big toe deviates from the normal position toward the direction of the second toe is referred to as hallux valgus. The word bunion refers specifically to the prominence made of bone and at times an inflamed bursa. This bursa develops on the first metatarsal head at the base of the big toe because of this bony prominence. Although a bunion may develop without hallux valgus, for the purposes of this discussion, the term bunion will include both. Dorsal bunions, are a separate entity, in which the prominence appears on the top of the base of the toe-often the result of an arthritic joint.
By far the most common cause of bunions is the prolonged wearing of poorly fitting shoes, usually shoes with a narrow, pointed toe box that squeezes the toes into an unnatural position. Bunions also may be caused by arthritis or polio. Heredity often plays a role in bunion formation. But these causes account for only a small percentage of bunions. A study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society found that 88 percent of women in the U.S. wear shoes that are too small and 55 percent have bunions. Not surprisingly, bunions are nine times more common in women than men.
The dominant symptom of a bunion is a big bulging bump on the inside of the base of the big toe. Other symptoms include swelling, soreness and redness around the big toe joint, a tough callus at the bottom of the big toe and persistent or intermittent pain.
Most patients are diagnosed to have bunions from clinical history and examination. However, in some cases, X-rays will be performed to determine the extent of damage to the joint. Furthermore, it will enable the treating doctor to decide on the best course of management of the patient.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of hallux valgus nearly always starts with adapting shoe wear to fit the foot. In the early stages of hallux valgus, converting from a shoe with a pointed toe to a shoe with a wide forefoot (or toe box) may arrest the progression of the deformity. Since the pain that arises from the bunion is due to pressure from the shoe, treatment focuses on removing the pressure that the shoe exerts on the deformity. Wider shoes reduce the pressure on the bunion. Bunion pads may reduce pressure and rubbing from the shoe. There are also numerous devices, such as toe spacers, that attempt to splint the big toe and reverse the deforming forces.
There is no "standard" bunion, but rather a complex range of joint, bone, muscle, tendon and ligament abnormalities that can cause variation in each bunion's make-up. As a result, there are a broad variety of surgical techniques for dealing with bunions. Most surgical procedures start with a simple bunionectomy, which involves excision of swollen tissues and removal of the enlarged boney structure. While this may remove the troublesome tissues, however, it may not correct other issues associated with the bunion. The surgeon may also need to tighten or loosen the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the MTP joint. Realign the bone by cutting it and shifting its position (a technique called osteotomy), realigning muscles, tendons and ligaments accordingly. Use screws, wires or plates to hold the joint surfaces together until they heal. Reconstruct a badly damaged joint or replace it with an artificial implant.