Bunions, or hallux valgus, are potentially painful protrusions of bone that form on the joint at the base of the big toe.
When inward pressure is exerted on the big toe, the bones of the metatarsophalangeal joint can become misaligned. The joint subsequently becomes enlarged and protrudes from the side of the foot.
Bunions develop slowly over time, gradually increasing in size and causing greater discomfort. Left untreated, the patient can suffer intense pain that disrupts normal activities. Bunions can potentially develop into a variety more serious orthopedic conditions.
Causes of Bunions
The tendency to develop bunions can be inherited. They may also develop as the result of congenital deformity, arthritis and other musculoskeletal medical conditions, or from a foot injury.
However, most patients develop bunions after years of wearing improper shoes. Any shoe that exerts inward pressure on the big toe can be responsible, but the most common culprits are women’s narrow, pointed-toe or high-heeled shoes.
Some question remains as to whether high-fashion shoes actually cause bunions or simply exacerbate their development. Either way, restrictive or ill-fitting footwear is clearly linked to this painful condition.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Bunions
Bunions can be identified by their characteristic bulging bump at the base of the big toe. The joint may become sore, enlarged or reddened, accompanied by constant or intermittent pain.
At the location where the big toe overlaps the second toe, patients may also develop callouses or corns. A smaller version of the bunion, sometimes called a bunionette, can form at the base of the little toe, accompanied by the same symptoms as their larger cousins.
Left untreated, bunions usually grow progressively worse. The joint may become arthritic, causing restricted movement of the toe. Patients may also develop bursitis, hammertoe or metatarsalgia (painful inflammation in the ball of the foot).
Diagnosing bunions can often be accomplished through visual examination of the foot. Determining the underlying cause, however, may require further diagnostics.
The doctor will take a detailed medical history and ask about your footwear, activities, etc. The doctor will also order X-rays (in standing and sitting positions) to evaluate the severity of the bunion and to identify the potential cause.
Bunion Treatment and Prevention
To help relieve pain, the doctor will recommend icing the bunion area to reduce swelling. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (such as naproxen or ibuprofen) may also help reduce of pain and swelling.
The most common nonsurgical treatment for bunion pain centers around relieving the inward pressure on the big toe. Choosing proper-fitting footwear that’s less damaging to your feet can prevent the condition from worsening. Doctors may also recommend shoe inserts, cushioning, orthotics or toe spacers for some patients.
Minimally invasive treatment options include cortisone and orthobiologic injections. In some cases, if other therapies are not effective, the doctor may recommend bunionectomy surgery. This procedure involves removal of bone overgrowth and the realignment of the toe joint.
Before foot or ankle problems begin to interfere with your daily activities, schedule a consultation with Dr. Hunter for bunion evaluation and treatment recommendations.