A bunion is an enlargement of bone at the great toe joint. Tight shoes don't cause bunions, but they can aggravate them. Bunions are often inherited and become worse over time if left untreated they can cause pain, swelling, skin irritation and other foot problems. Bunion deformities are often part of a more generalized problem related to improper foot motion. There are presently over 25 types of bunion procedures performed today. The choice of procedure is based on many factors.
Inflammatory joint diseases. Those who suffer from rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are at risk for bunions, although many times, those who suffer from bunions will mistakenly attribute the soreness in their feet to arthritis. Genetic and neuromuscular factors. Individuals with Down?s Syndrome are believed to be more prone to developing bunions; therefore, the gait and feet of such patients should be examined carefully and regularly so that any problems can be caught and treated early. Similarly, individuals of any age who have been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos or Marfan?s Syndrome, have also been shown to have a higher than average occurrence of bunions. Limb inequality. Individuals who have legs of unequal length often suffer from bunions on the longer limb due to the irregular mechanics of their walking or running gait.
The most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain on the side of the foot just behind the great toe. A red painful bump is usually present. Pain is usually brought on with walking or sports. Shoes don't cause bunions but will typically aggravate them. Stiff leather shoes or shoes with a tapered toe box are the prime offenders. This is why bunion pain is most common in women whose shoes have a pointed toe box. The bunion site will often be slightly swollen and red from the constant rubbing and irritation of a shoe. Occasionally, corns can develop between the 1st and 2nd toe from the pressure the toes rubbing against each other.
X-rays are the best way to determine the amount of deformity of the MTP joint. Blood work may be required to rule out other diseases that may be associated with bunions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Other tests such as bone scans or MRI's are not usually required.
Non Surgical Treatment
A range of treatments is available for bunions, including painkillers, modifying footwear, orthotics, such as insoles, bunion pads and toe spacers. Surgery may be considered if a person's symptoms are severe and do not respond to non-surgical treatment. The type of surgery used will depend on the level of deformity, the severity of any other associated symptoms, the patient's age and any other associated medical conditions. Bunion surgery is usually effective, with up to 85% of cases resulting in improvement to symptoms. However, the deformity can sometimes return after bunion surgery.
As you explore bunion surgery, be aware that so-called "simple" or "minimal" surgical procedures are often inadequate "quick fixes" that can do more harm than good. And beware of unrealistic claims that surgery can give you a "perfect" foot. The goal of surgery is to relieve as much pain, and correct as much deformity as is realistically possible. It is not meant to be cosmetic. There are several techniques available, often as daycare (no in-patient stay), using ankle block local anaesthetic alone or combined with sedation or full general anaesthesia. Most of the recovery occurs over 6-8 weeks, but full recovery is often longer and can include persistent swelling and stiffness. The surgeon may take one or more of the following steps in order to bring the big toe back to the correct position: (a) shift the soft tissue (ligaments and tendons) around the joint and reset the metatarsal bone (osteotomy), remove the bony bump and other excess bone or (b) remove the joint and connect (fuse) the bones on the two side of the joint (fusion). These are just a few examples of the many different procedures available and your treating surgeon can help you decide the best option for you.