A bunion is one problem that can develop due to hallux valgus, a foot deformity. The term "hallux valgus" is Latin and means a turning outward (valgus) of the big toe (hallux). The bone which joins the big toe, the first metatarsal, becomes prominent on the inner border of the foot. This bump is the bunion and is made up of bone and soft tissue.
Many problems that occur in the feet are the result of abnormal pressure or rubbing. One way of understanding what happens in the foot due to abnormal pressure is to view the foot simply. Our simple model of a foot is made up of hard bone covered by soft tissue that we then put a shoe on top of. Most of the symptoms that develop over time are because the skin and soft tissue are caught between the hard bone on the inside and the hard shoe on the outside. Any prominence, or bump, in the bone will make the situation even worse over the bump. Skin responds to constant rubbing and pressure by forming a callus. The soft tissues underneath the skin respond to the constant pressure and rubbing by growing thicker. Both the thick callus and the thick soft tissues under the callus are irritated and painful. The answer to decreasing the pain is to remove the pressure. The pressure can be reduced from the outside by changing the pressure from the shoes. The pressure can be reduced from the inside by surgically removing any bony prominence.
Symptoms of a bunion include irritated skin, sensitivity to touch, and pain when walking or running. Since the bunion may grow so prominent as to affect the shape of the foot, shoes may no longer fit properly, and blisters may form at the site of friction and pressure. Bunions may grow so large that an individual must wear shoes that are a larger size than they would otherwise wear. If the bunion becomes a severe case, walking may become difficult.
Before examining your foot, the doctor will ask you about the types of shoes you wear and how often you wear them. He or she also will ask if anyone else in your family has had bunions or if you have had any previous injury to the foot. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose a bunion just by examining your foot. During this exam, you will be asked to move your big toe up and down to see if you can move it as much as you should be able to. The doctor also will look for signs of redness and swelling and ask if the area is painful. Your doctor may want to order X-rays of the foot to check for other causes of pain, to determine whether there is significant arthritis and to see if the bones are aligned properly.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is a wide rage of treatment options for those who suffer from bunions. If the bunion is mild and does not require bunion surgery, resting the foot and avoiding excessive exercise or walking will help. Wearing shoes that have a wider toe opening, including sandals, can relieve the rubbing and irritation that comes along with more confining shoes. High-heeled shoes should be avoided as they push the big toe outward and can inflame the joint of a bunion. Anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) usually ease inflammation and target pain as well. If the bunion does become inflamed and irritated, application of an ice pack can reduce swelling and pain. If the inflammation because excessive, cortisone can be injected at the site of the bunion to reduce the swelling at the joint of the big toe.
Surgery should only be considered for bunions that are painful, not for correction of the cosmetic appearance! The primary indication for operative intervention should be pain that is not relieved by appropriate non-operative management. Although symptom-free bunions can slowly increase in size over time surgical treatment is not recommended unless significant pain symptoms develop. The prolonged recovery time associated with most bunion operations, combined with the potential for complications means that patients should be extremely cautious of undergoing bunion surgery for purely cosmetic reasons.