A bunion is a bony lump on the side of your foot, which develops when your big toe starts to angle towards your second toe. The bunion will eventually cause you discomfort and pain. The skin over the lump can become red, blistered or infected. A fluid-filled space called a bursa may also develop under your skin in this area and this can be painful if it becomes inflamed. This is called bursitis. The deformity of your big toe combined with a bunion is sometimes referred to as hallux valgus.
Some people develop bunions from wearing shoes that do not fit correctly (especially high heels or narrow-toed shoes). For other people, bunions are caused by factors beyond their control. These can include a family history of a foot type that is susceptible to bunions, neuromuscular disorders, conditions affecting the joints (e.g., arthritis), severe injury to the foot, deformities at birth, problems that affect the way a person walks (e.g., rolling in at the ankles).
With an advanced bunion, the big toe joint can be significantly deformed. The big toe can crowd the other toes and may lie over or under the second toe. The larger the bunion gets, the more it hurts to walk. Wearing any type of shoe can be painful. Symptoms of bunions tend to increase over time as the condition worsens. Typical symptoms include deformity of the big toe joint. Growth of a bony lump (exostosis) at the side of the big toe joint. Pain, redness and tissue swelling (bursitis) over the big toe joint, with thickening of overlying skin. Pain when walking (particularly during the "push off" phase). Overlapping of the big toe above or below the second toe in severe cases.
Your doctor will be able to diagnose a bunion by asking about your symptoms and examining your feet. You may also have blood tests to rule out any other medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout, although this is rare. Your doctor may refer you to a podiatrist or chiropodist (healthcare professionals who specialise in conditions that affect the feet).
Non Surgical Treatment
A range of treatments is available for bunions, including painkillers, modifying footwear, orthotics, such as insoles, bunion pads and toe spacers. Surgery may be considered if a person's symptoms are severe and do not respond to non-surgical treatment. The type of surgery used will depend on the level of deformity, the severity of any other associated symptoms, the patient's age and any other associated medical conditions. Bunion surgery is usually effective, with up to 85% of cases resulting in improvement to symptoms. However, the deformity can sometimes return after bunion surgery.
In some very mild cases of bunion formation, surgery may only be required to remove the bump that makes up the bunion. This operation, called a bunionectomy, is performed through a small incision on the side of the foot immediately over the area of the bunion. Once the skin is opened the bump is removed using a special surgical saw or chisel. The bone is smoothed of all rough edges and the skin incision is closed with small stitches. It is more likely that realignment of the big toe will also be necessary. The major decision that must be made is whether or not the metatarsal bone will need to be cut and realigned as well. The angle made between the first metatarsal and the second metatarsal is used to make this decision. The normal angle is around nine or ten degrees. If the angle is 13 degrees or more, the metatarsal will probably need to be cut and realigned.
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.