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.
The classic bunion, medically known as hallux abductovalgus or HAV, is a bump on the side of the great toe joint. This bump represents an actual deviation of the 1st metatarsal and often an overgrowth of bone on the metatarsal head. In addition, there is also deviation of the great toe toward the second toe. In severe cases, the great toe can either lie above or below the second toe. Shoes are often blamed for creating these problems. This, however, is inaccurate. It has been noted that primitive tribes where going barefoot is the norm will also develop bunions. Bunions develop from abnormal foot structure and mechanics (e.g. excessive pronation), which place an undue load on the 1st metatarsal. This leads to stretching of supporting soft tissue structures such as joint capsules and ligaments with the end result being gradual deviation of the 1st metatarsal. As the deformity increases, there is an abnormal pull of certain tendons, which leads to the drifting of the great toe toward the 2nd toe. At this stage, there is also adaptation of the joint itself that occurs.
The symptoms of a bunion include the following development of a firm bump on the outside edge of the foot, at the base of the big toe, redness, swelling, or pain at or near the MTP joint, corns or other irritations caused by the overlap of the first and second toes, restricted or painful motion of the big toe.
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
The treatment of a bunion depends entirely on how uncomfortable it is. Realistically, there are only two ways to treat a bunion: either change the size and shape of the shoe or change the size and shape of the foot. Once a bunion gets to be irritating or painful and shoe wear is uncomfortable, surgery may be recommended.
The choice of surgical procedures (bunionectomy) is based on a biomechanical and radiographic examination of the foot. Because there is actual bone displacement and joint adaptation, most successful bunionectomies require cutting and realigning the 1st metatarsal (an osteotomy). Simply "shaving the bump" is often inadequate in providing long-term relief of symptoms and in some cases can actually cause the bunion to progress faster. The most common procedure performed for the correction of bunions is the 1st metatarsal neck osteotomy, near the level of the joint. This refers to the anatomical site on the 1st metatarsal where the actual bone cut is made. Other procedures are preformed in the shaft of the metatarsal bone (see procedures preformed in the shaft of the metatarsal) and still other procedures are selected by the surgeon that are preformed in the base of the metatarsal bone (see surgeries preformed in the base of the metatarsal).