A bunion is a bony enlargement of the joint and surrounding soft tissues at the base of the big toe. The enlargement makes the big toe joint stick out further on the side, and forces the big toe to curve in closer to the other toes. For some people, bunions cause little or no pain. In Canada, women are 10 times more likely than men to have bunions. Managing the condition so that it doesn’t get worse is a matter of wearing appropriate footwear, cushioning and supporting the area, and taking pain relievers as required. People with more severe bunions may need more specific treatment, such as surgery.
You may get bunions if the way your foot is shaped puts too much pressure on your big toe joint. Because bunions can run in families, some experts believe that the inherited shape of the foot makes some people more likely to get them. Your foot rolls inward too much when you walk. A moderate amount of inward roll, or pronation, is normal. But damage and injury can happen with too much pronation. You have flat feet. You often wear shoes that are too tight. All of these may put pressure on the big toe joint. Over time, the constant pressure forces the big toe out of alignment, bending it toward the other toes.
Symptoms, which occur at the site of the bunion, may include pain or soreness, inflammation and redness, a burning sensation, possible numbness. Symptoms occur most often when wearing shoes that crowd the toes, such as shoes with a tight toe box or high heels. This may explain why women are more likely to have symptoms than men. In addition, spending long periods of time on your feet can aggravate the symptoms of bunions.
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
If abnormal pronation is identified and corrected early, the formation of a bunion can be prevented. However, if the bunion has already developed and cannot be tolerated by the patient, surgery is necessary. Amputation of the big toe ceased to be a treatment for bunions many generations ago, but only in the past few years have surgical procedures been developed to incorporate the realignment of the bone with the correction of the abnormal motion that led to deformity.
Research shows that 85% of people who have bunion corrections are satisfied with the results. However, a number of problems can arise. The big toe is usually stiffer than before. For most people this does not matter, but for athletes or dancers it is very important. As mentioned before, the big toe is slightly weaker with a bunion, and this transfers weight onto the ball of the foot. After bunion surgery, this transfer of weight can increase. Therefore, if you have pain under the ball of the foot (”metatarsalgia”) it may be worse after bunion surgery, and it may also develop for the first time. Careful surgical technique can reduce this risk, but it cannot avoid it completely. Most people who develop metatarsalgia are comfortable with a simple insole in the shoe but occasionally surgery is required. In some people the big toe slowly tilts back toward the original position and occasionally this is bad enough to need to have the operation redone. On the other hand, the toe can tilt the other way, though much more rarely. Again, occasionally this is bad enough to need to have the operation redone. Infections in the wound, plaster problems and minor damage to the nerves of the toe can occur in any foot surgery. Usually these are minor problems that get better quickly. This may sound like a lot of possible problems, but in fact most people do not get them and are satisfied with their bunion surgery. However, this may help you to see how important it is to have any bunion surgery carried out by a properly trained and experienced foot and ankle surgeon.
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