The bunion, or hallux valgus, is a condition that affects the bones and joints associated with the great toe. It is one of the most common deformities of the forefoot. The condition develops slowly and results from the gradual dislocation of the joint, usually because of instability during gait. There is a displacement of the first metatarsal bone toward the mid-line of the body, and a simultaneous displacement of the great toe away from the mid-line (and toward the smaller toes). This causes a prominence of bone on the inside (medial) margin of the forefoot, this is termed a bunion. As the deformity progresses, the big toe will shift toward the outside of the foot. In severe cases, the big toe will actually overlap or under lap the second toe. It is often of a hereditary nature, but it is also associated with rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases. There are no exercises, splints or other devices that reliably correct a bunion. Orthotics can sometimes slow or halt the progression by addressing the instability which causes the deformity, but they cannot reduce the deformity.
Bunions are among the most common problems of the foot. They are several possible reasons a bunion may develop, though a biomechanical abnormality (improper function of the foot) is the most common cause. In an unstable flat foot, for example, a muscular imbalance often develops that, over time, causes bunions. Bunions tend to run in families, and most podiatrists believe that genetic factors play a role in predisposing some people to develop bunions. Poor shoes, like high heels and pointed toe boxes--exacerbate the condition by speeding up the development of bunions, and by making bunions more painful. Poor shoe choices is at least one of the reasons bunions are much more common in women than men.
The skin over your big toe may be red and tender. Wearing any type of shoe may be painful. This joint flexes with every step you take. Your big toe may angle toward your second toe, or even move all the way under it. The skin on the bottom of your foot may become thicker and painful. Pressure from your big toe may force your second toe out of alignment, sometimes overlapping your third toe. If this condition gets severe, it may be difficult to walk. Your pain may become chronic and you may develop arthritis.
Diagnosis begins with a careful history and physical examination by your doctor. This will usually include a discussion about shoe wear and the importance of shoes in the development and treatment of the condition. X-rays will probably be suggested. This allows your doctor to measure several important angles made by the bones of the feet to help determine the appropriate treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatments for bunions may include wearing shoes that fit and that have adequate toe room. Stretching shoes professionally to make them larger. Putting bunion pads over the bunion to cushion the pain. Avoiding activities that cause pain, such as being on your feet for long periods of time. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers when necessary, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen. Using ice to provide relief from inflammation and pain. Using custom-made orthotic devices.
Depending on the size of the enlargement, misalignment of the toe, and pain experienced, conservative treatments may not be adequate to prevent progressive damage from bunions. In these cases, bunion surgery, known as a bunionectomy, may be advised to remove the bunion and realign the toe.
Choosing footwear that fits correctly, especially low heeled shoes with plenty of space for the toes, is one of the main ways that bunions can be prevented. Always stand when trying on shoes to ensure they still fit comfortably when the foot expands under your body weight. Try shoes on both feet, and select the size appropriate for your larger foot. Use an extra insole if one shoe is looser than the other. Do not cramp the larger foot. People prone to flat-footedness should consider the use of arch supports, orthotic shoe inserts or special orthotic shoes to prevent or delay the development of bunions.