Though a bunion is often described as a painful bump, this condition is much more complex than a simple bump on the side of the toe. X-rays show the true nature of the deformity and are used to help in the decision making process. Ranges of motion of joints associated with the toe are also performed to assess the deformity. There are many procedures for correcting a bunion and choosing the right one based on the examination increases the chance of success. The procedure performed on one person may not be the procedure required to give another a good result. In general, more severe bunion deformities require more extensive surgery and more extensive post-operative limitations. It is very important to note that the same instability and incorrect motion that causes a bunion also causes degeneration of the joint surfaces (osteoarthritis). Correction of the bunion cannot repair the damage done within the joint and continued pain from that separate process may occur. Realigning the joint may slow the damage within the joint and improve motion, but it may not alleviate all pain.
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.
With the positional change of the hallux, pain is a common occurrence. As the foot goes through the gait cycle the hallux plays an integral role as the body's weight transmits through during propulsion. With this in mind, it easy to see how the change in the hallux joints (metatarsal phalangeal joint and the proximal interphalangeal) would cause joint narrowing and early degeneration of the articular cartilage. In addition, two small bones (ossicles) found underneath just behind the joint will start placing extra pressure on the metatarsal. Along with bony changes, there are many soft tissue changes as the hallux and metatarsal reposition, which causes added strain to other bony structures and can accelerate the problem.
People with bunions may be concerned about the changing appearance of their feet, but it is usually the pain caused by the condition that leads them to consult their doctor. The doctor will evaluate any symptoms experienced and examine the affected foot for joint enlargement, tissue swelling and/or tenderness. They will also assess any risk factors for the condition and will ask about family history. An x-ray of the foot is usually recommended so that the alignment of big toe joint can be assessed. This would also allow any other conditions that may be affecting the joint, such as arthritis, to be seen.
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.
Larger bunions are commonly treated with the Lapidus Bunionectomy, which involves realigned the displaced bone at its bottom, through a bone mending/fusion procedure. It is with this technique where the the walking advances have been made int he past decade. The Lapidus Bunionectomy has become a popular surgical method since surgeons have become more comfortable with mobilizing their patients post-operatively. Though not all surgeons who perform this procedure have adopted this postoperative protocol.
If the diagnosis is made early on, such as in preadolescence, bunion development can be slowed and in some cases arrested with the proper supportive shoe gear and custom functional shoe inserts (orthotics). Avoidance of certain athletic activities with improper shoe fit and toe pressure can prevent the symptoms that occur with bunions.