Knowing how bunions develop is helpful in selecting the appropriate bunion treatment. In general, most bunion deformities are a result of foot structure and function which are genetic. As the heel strikes the ground when walking, the joints of the foot unlock and absorb impact. Referred to as pronation, the arch collapses causing the feet to flatten. This flattening causes excessive tension of the tendon in the upper mid-foot that enables the big toe to bend upward. The tendon contracts which then forces the big toe to be pulled laterally toward the second toe. It can take many years for a bunion to develop, and especially to the point of pain. One can have a bunion but not yet experience any bunion pain. Conversely, one can suffer from bunion pain without having a severe deformity.
Bunions develop when excess pressure is placed on the tendons and joints of the foot. As a result, the joints can become deformed and unstable. After years of pressure, the MTP joint suffers, leading to abnormal movement and bunions. Bunions are symptomatic of poor foot development (which can be genetic), walking habits, shoes, foot type and other reasons. Women often develop bunions as a result of tight shoes that squeeze the toes together. Bunions can also result from foot injuries, congenital deformities and neuromuscular disorders. Flat foot and low arch problems are often precursors to bunions, as are problems with serious arthritis or inflammatory joint disease. An overlap of the first and second toes often causes irritation and corns and can eventually lead to bunions. Poor motion of the big toe can also be a factor.
SymptomsThe symptoms of hallux valgus usually center on the bunion. The bunion is painful. The severe hallux valgus deformity is also distressing to many and becomes a cosmetic problem. Finding appropriate shoe wear can become difficult, especially for women who want to be fashionable but have difficulty tolerating fashionable shoe wear. Finally, increasing deformity begins to displace the second toe upward and may create a situation where the second toe is constantly rubbing on the shoe.
Physical examination typically reveals a prominence on the inside (medial) aspect of the forefoot. This represents the bony prominence associated with the great toe joint ( the medial aspect of the first metatarsal head). The great toe is deviated to the outside (laterally) and often rotated slightly. This produces uncovering of the joint at the base of the big toe (first metatarsophalangeal joint subluxation). In mild and moderate bunions, this joint may be repositioned back to a neutral position (reduced) on physical examination. With increased deformity or arthritic changes in the first MTP joint, this joint cannot be fully reduced. Patients may also have a callus at the base of their second toe under their second metatarsal head in the sole of the forefoot. Bunions are often associated with a long second toe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Wear comfortable shoes that don’t squeeze your toes together. Sandals are ideal in warm weather. Cushioning the bunion with a donut-shaped bunion pad sold at drugstores can prevent any direct rubbing against your shoes. Have your shoes stretched to give your foot more room or consider switching to footwear customized to relieve pressure on the affected area. Soak your foot in warm water to help lessen the pain after a day on your feet. Apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling of painful and inflamed bunions. Take aspirin or ibuprofen for the inflammation and pain, and try supplementing with anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger and turmeric (these work more slowly than the drugs). See a podiatrist for specially fitted shoes or orthotic devices that may help. Sometimes, surgery is necessary. Seek a second opinion before scheduling any operation.
The choice of surgical procedures (bunionectomy) is based on a biomechanical and radiographic examination of the foot. Because there is actual bone displacement and joint adaptation, most successful bunionectomies require cutting and realigning the 1st metatarsal (an osteotomy). Simply “shaving the bump” is often inadequate in providing long-term relief of symptoms and in some cases can actually cause the bunion to progress faster. The most common procedure performed for the correction of bunions is the 1st metatarsal neck osteotomy, near the level of the joint. This refers to the anatomical site on the 1st metatarsal where the actual bone cut is made. Other procedures are preformed in the shaft of the metatarsal bone (see procedures preformed in the shaft of the metatarsal) and still other procedures are selected by the surgeon that are preformed in the base of the metatarsal bone (see surgeries preformed in the base of the metatarsal).