A bunion is a firm, fluid-filled pad overlying the inside of the joint at the base of the big toe (metatarsophalangeal joint). The pad (bursa), which may get larger and stick out, can become inflamed and painful. Bunions may run in families, but many result from wearing tight shoes. Nine out of 10 bunions are developed by women. Nine out of 10 women wear shoes that are too small. Tight shoes also can cause other disabling foot problems like corns, calluses and hammertoes.
Bunions are most often caused by an inherited faulty mechanical structure of the foot. It is not the bunion itself that is inherited, but certain foot types that make a person prone to developing a bunion. Although wearing shoes that crowd the toes won?t actually cause bunions, it sometimes makes the deformity get progressively worse. Symptoms may therefore appear sooner.
It is unusual to have much bunion or hallux valgus pain when out of shoe wear or at rest. There are exceptions to this and in particular if symptoms have been ignored during the day and the bunion has become very painful during the day then some symptoms may be present at night. The pain from the region of the great toe at rest or at night is however more often a symptom of an arthritic big toe (hallux rigidus) rather than a straightforward bunion. To confuse matters these two conditions can sometimes coexist. Bunion or hallux valgus pain is most often present when walking in enclosed shoes. There may be little bunion pain in sandals or barefoot. It is unusual to have much bunion pain when not putting weight on the foot or at night. If there is bunion pain at rest or at night then there may also be arthritic change within the toe.
Most patients are diagnosed to have bunions from clinical history and examination. However, in some cases, X-rays will be performed to determine the extent of damage to the joint. Furthermore, it will enable the treating doctor to decide on the best course of management of the patient.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment options are based on the severity of the deformity and symptoms. Nonsurgical treatments usually are enough to relieve the pain and pressure on the big toe. Your doctor may tell you to start wearing roomy, comfortable shoes and use toe padding or a special corrective device that slips into your shoes to push the big toe back into its proper position. To help relieve pain, you can take over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others). Whirlpool baths also may help to ease discomfort.
If your bunion has progressed to the point where you have difficulty walking, or experience pain despite accommodating shoes, you may need surgery. Bunion surgery realigns bone, ligaments, tendons and nerves so your big toe can be brought back to its correct position. Orthopedic surgeons have several techniques to ease your pain. Many bunion surgeries are done on a same-day basis, requiring no hospital stay, using an ankle-block anesthesia. A long recovery is common and may include persistent swelling and stiffness.