A bunion is an abnormal bump, or bony enlargement that forms at the base of your big toe. In the early stages, the bunion may be small and the side of your foot may be slightly swollen. As it progresses, the bump gets larger and becomes increasingly painful. Your big toe may point towards your other toes, rather than straight. Shoes may be uncomfortable to wear and add to the irritation of the joint.
Bunions are a common problem that can cause foot pain and difficulty wearing shoes. Bunions occur in about 30% of the population of most Western countries. They are seen most commonly in women and become more common as people get older. Patients with bunions generally have one of two problems that can cause pain. As the big toe becomes more and more angled (pointing toward the other toes), the base of the toe becomes more and more prominent, forming the bunion. The bunion forms in part because of the new angle of the toe, and in part due to inflammation over the bunion surface. As the inflammation worsens, people can experience pain with shoe wear and walking. The big toe may eventually come to lie over, or more commonly under, the second toe. This may cause further irritation while wearing shoes and more pain. The second toe of patients who have bunions commonly forms a hammer toe.
Bunions may or may not cause symptoms. A frequent symptom is foot pain in the involved area when walking or wearing shoes; rest relieves this pain. A bunion causes enlargement of the base of the big toe and is usually associated with positioning of the big toe toward the smaller toes. Shoe pressure in this area can cause interment pain while the development of arthritis in more severe bunions can lead to chronic pain. Bunions that cause marked pain are often associated with swelling of the soft tissues, redness, and local tenderness. It is important to note that, in postpubertal men and postmenopausal women, pain at the base of the big toe can be caused by gout and gouty arthritis that is similar to the pain caused by bunions.
Although bunions are usually obvious from the pain and unusual shape of the toe, further investigation is often advisable. Your doctor will usually send you for X-rays to determine the extent of the deformity. Blood tests may be advised to see if some type of arthritis could be causing the pain. Based on this evaluation, your doctor can determine whether you need orthopaedic shoes, medication, surgery or other treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
Wide toe box, bunion pads, orthotics, or a combination. Mild discomfort may lessen by wearing a shoe with a wide toe box or with stretchable material. If not, bunion pads purchased in most pharmacies can shield the painful area. Orthotics can also be prescribed to redistribute and relieve pressure from the affected articulation. If conservative therapy fails, surgery aimed at correcting abnormal bony alignments and restoring joint mobility should be considered. If the patient is unwilling to wear large, wider shoes to accommodate the bunion because they are unattractive, surgery can be considered; however, patients should be told that orthotic devices should be worn after surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. For bursitis, bursal aspiration and injection of a corticosteroid are indicated. For osteoarthritic synovitis, oral NSAIDs or an intra-articular injection of a corticosteroid/anesthetic solution reduces symptoms. For hallux limitus or hallux rigidus, treatment aims to preserve joint mobility by using passive stretching exercises, which occasionally require injection of a local anesthetic to relieve muscle spasm. Sometimes surgical release of contractures is necessary.
Bunion surgery is occasionally required when the bunion deformity is too advanced for conservative treatment to work. Your surgeon will usually cut an angular section from the bone to correct the alignment. In some cases, multiple toes may need to be straighten.