Bunions are one of the most common forefoot deformities. A displacement of the bone under the 1st toe occurs. This causes the big toe to move towards the smaller toes. This shifting of the bones causes a bony prominence on the side of the patients foot (the bunion joint). Over a period of time the big toe may come to rest under (occasionally over) the 2nd toe.
There are many factors which can contribute to the development of a bunion. The common causes are genetic factors, poor foot mechanics, high-heeled or narrow footwear and trauma to the toe. It is believed that constant stress on the joint of the big toe causes mild displacement of the bones and the joint, along with thickening of the tissues and a change in the pull of the muscles. This can result in a degree of arthritis of the joint, and over time, further displacement of the toe. This may lead to pain, difficultly with fitting shoes and corns/calloused lesions due to excess pressure on the smaller digits.
Audible clicking (called ?crepitus?) and/or stiffness in the affected joint which indicates that the joint surfaces are rubbing together improperly. Inflammation, degeneration of the surfaces of the joint, deformity (including bone growth at the joint line and displacement of the toe) and ultimately, loss of range of motion in the joint. Pain at the side and top of the joint that worsens with walking and physical activity.
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
A bunion may only need to be treated if it's severe and causing significant pain and discomfort. The different treatments for bunions are described below. If possible, non-surgical treatment for bunions will be used, which your GP can discuss with you. Non-surgical treatments can ease the pain and discomfort caused by a bunion, but they can't change the shape of your foot or prevent a bunion from getting worse over time. Non-surgical treatments include painkillers, bunion pads, orthotics, wearing suitable footwear, These are discussed in more detail below. If your bunion is painful, over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may be recommended.Bunion pads may also ease the pain of a bunion. Reusable bunion pads, made of either gel or fleece, are available over the counter from pharmacies. Some are adhesive and stick over the bunion, while others are held against your foot by a small loop that fits over your big toe. Bunion pads stop your foot rubbing on your shoe and relieve the pressure over the enlarged joint at the base of your big toe. Orthotics are placed inside your shoes to help realign the bones of your foot. They may help relieve the pressure on your bunion, which can ease the pain. However, there's little evidence that orthotics are effective in the long term. It's important that the orthotic fits properly, so you may want to seek advice from your GP or podiatrist (a specialist in diagnosing and treating foot conditions), who can suggest the best ones for you.
Surgery takes place either under local or general anaesthetic and takes about one hour. After surgery you will have either a plaster cast or special dressing on the foot and you will be given a special walking shoe and crutches to use the first few days/weeks. Recovery usually takes approximately 6-8 weeks but swelling often lasts longer and it may take a few months before you are able to wear normal shoes again. Full recovery can take up to a year. Bunion surgery is successful in approximately 85% of cases, but it is vital not to go back to wearing ill-fitting shoes else the problem is likely to return.