A bunion or hallux valgus is a prominence on the inner border of the foot effecting the big toe and at the level of the 1st metatarso-phalangeal (MTP) joint. The bunion prominence which is seen and felt on the inner border of the foot is not due to any growth of bone but is due to the 1st metatarsal bone. With a bunion this has become more prominent than normal because the 1st metatarsal has moved away from its immediate neighbour the 2nd metatarsal. This widens the forefoot thus producing the bunion. An inevitability of the splaying of the foot which occurs with a bunion or hallux valgus is that the great toe itself is then pulled across in the opposite direction (towards the second toe) by the still normally located tendons of the big toe. A bunion or hallux valgus is commonly confused with hallux interphalangeus (where the deformity lies more distally and which tends to be less problematic). Here there is no increase in the space between the metatarsals, and the deformity lies in the shape of the phalynx bone.
Bunions result from the long bone in the foot (metatarsal) and the big-toe bone becoming misaligned. The causes are likely to be a combination of genetics, wearing ill-fitting shoes, and the way that we walk or run. Arthritis sufferers are also prone to bunions.
Symptoms include redness, swelling and pain which may be present along the inside margin of the foot. The patients feet may become too wide to fit into their normal size shoes and moderate to severe discomfort may occur when the patient is wearing tight shoes. A "hammer toe" may occur at the 2nd toe. This is when the toe contracts and presses on the shoe. Subsequently, this may cause a corn on top of the 2nd toe.
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
The most common cause of a bunion is over pronation, this is when your foot rotates in too much as you walk. You really need to treat the underlying cause of the bunion as soon as possible to prevent any further damage. Wear wide fitting shoes, preferably with a leather upper which will allow a stretch. Avoid high heeled shoes. Bunion exercises will help to keep the joint flexible. Bunion surgery may be required in some patients, however this should only be considered when all non-surgical treatment options have been used. Bunion surgery has improved dramatically over the last 20 years but it still cannot guarantee a total recovery and often post operative complications such as calluses and corns can occur depending on the procedure used. If your bunion becomes painful, red and swollen, try using ice on the joint and elevate the foot on a stool. Bunion Night Splints can reduce the size of the bunion. This will straighten the bunion while you sleep. A Bunion Shield can reduce the pain over the bunion. Performing stretches on your toes and feet while you go about your daily routine. This increases circulation, red blood cell activity, and bone realignment. The easiest way to do this is by using a soft, flexible, medical grade gel Toe stretcher which is gentle between the toes and helps to straighten your toes.
Several surgical procedures are available to the podiatric physician The surgery will remove the bony enlargement, restore the normal alignment of the toe joint, and relieve pain.A simple bunionectomy, in which only the bony prominence is removed, may be used for the less severe deformity. Severe bunions may require a more involved procedure, which includes cutting the bone and realigning the joint. Recuperation takes time, and swelling and some discomfort are common for several weeks following surgery. Pain, however, is easily managed with medications prescribed by your podiatric physician.
The simplest way to reduce your chance of developing foot bunion or bunionette problems is to wear good-fitting shoes. Avoid high heels as they push your feet forwards to the front of the shoe where they get squashed. Also avoid narrow fitting shoes, especially those that are pointed at the front with a narrow toe box as again, these place pressure through the toes pushing them inwards. Shoes should be comfortable and leave enough room for you to wiggle your toes. Remember, bunions rarely affect non-shoe wearing people. Exercising your feet can also help. By strengthening the foot muscles you can improve your foot position which can help reduce foot bunion problems. Simple exercises like picking up small objects with your toes can help.