In medical terms, a bunion, or hallux valgus, is a bony bump that forms around the joint at the base of your big toe. This joint is one of the most important parts of your foot, bearing most of your body weight. The bony bump is caused by the head of the first metatarsal bone (the long bone) behind the big toe angling out from the foot. This causes the joint to swell, pushing the big toe in towards the adjacent toes. The result is pain on the side of your foot, arch pain, and discomfort throughout the adjacent toes as well.
Bunions are sometimes genetic and consist of certain tendons, ligaments, and supportive structures of the first metatarsal that are positioned differently. This bio-mechanical anomaly may be caused by a variety of conditions intrinsic to the structure of the foot, such as flat feet, excessive flexibility of ligaments, abnormal bone structure, and certain neurological conditions. These factors are often considered genetic. Although some experts are convinced that poor-fitting footwear is the main cause of bunion formation, other sources concede that footwear only exacerbates the problem caused by the original genetic structure. Bunions are commonly associated with a deviated position of the big toe toward the second toe, and the deviation in the angle between the first and second metatarsal bones of the foot. The small sesamoid bones found beneath the first metatarsal (which help the flexor tendon bend the big toe downwards) may also become deviated over time as the first metatarsal bone drifts away from its normal position. Arthritis of the big toe joint, diminished and/or altered range of motion, and discomfort with pressure applied to the bump or with motion of the joint, may all accompany bunion development. Atop of the first metatarsal head either medially or dorso-medially, there can also arise a bursa that when inflamed (bursitis), can be the most painful aspect of the process.
The most common complaint with bunions is pain that develops over the large bump due to shoe pressure. A red, inflamed area can develop, called a bursa. With ongoing pressure, the inflammation can cause throbbing, as it presses against the blood vessels, or swelling in the joint. Shooting pains occur when the swelling presses against the nerve. If left untreated, the constant irritation can lead to arthritis that breaks down the joint, resulting in pain and stiffness.
Bunions are readily apparent, you can see the prominence at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate your condition, the Podiatrist may arrange for x-rays to be taken to determine the degree of the deformity and assess the changes that have occurred. Because bunions are progressive, they don't go away, and will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike, some bunions progress more rapidly than others. There is no clear-cut way to predict how fast a bunion will get worse. The severity of the bunion and the symptoms you have will help determine what treatment is recommended for you.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor may recommend a prescription or over-the-counter pain reliever, as well as medication to relieve the swelling and inflammation. A heat pad or warm foot bath may also help relieve the immediate pain and discomfort. A few people may obtain relief with ice packs. If your bunion isn't persistently painful and you take action early on, changing to well-made, well-fitting shoes may be all the treatment you need. Your doctor may advise use of orthoses (devices that are used to improve and realign the bones of your foot), including bunion pads, splints, or other shoe inserts, provided they don't exert pressure elsewhere on the foot and aggravate other foot problems. In some cases, an orthotist (someone trained to provide splints, braces and special footwear to aid movement, correct deformity and relieve discomfort) can recommend shoes with specially designed insoles and uppers that take the pressure off affected joints and help the foot regain its proper shape.
Surgical techniques can now not only move the wayward bones into proper alignment but also slide the first metatarsal downwards so that its head is pushed into a normal position. In its proper position, the metatarsal bone can help prevent the over-pronation that caused the formation of the bunion. Combined with proper orthotic devices, this type of surgery has provided excellent results.