Your big toe is the hardest working toe. Every time your foot pushes off the ground, this toe supports most of your body’s weight. Because the big toe is so critical to movement, any problem with it can make walking or even standing painful. A bunion (excess or misaligned bone in the joint) is one of the most common big-toe problems. In addition to causing pain, a bunion changes the shape of your foot, making it harder to find shoes that fit. But you don’t have to hobble for the rest of your life. Bunions can be treated. With your doctor’s help, your feet can feel and look better.
Bunions tend to run in families, but that does not mean that if you have a bunion, your children will inevitably have one too. The connection may be that bunions are a bit commoner in people with unusually flexible joints, and this can be hereditary. They are also commoner in women than in men. Bunions do occur in cultures in which shoes are not worn, but much less commonly. Shoes which squeeze the big toe or do not fit properly, or have an excessively high heel, may worsen the deformity, particularly in people who are at higher risk anyway.
SymptomsWhile bunions may be considered cosmetically undesirable, they are not necessarily painful. In cases where the individual has minor discomfort that can be eased by wearing wider shoes made of soft leather and/or with the aid of spacers-padding placed between the toes to correct alignment-further treatment may not be necessary. (Anti-inflammatory agents can be used to alleviate temporary discomfort at the site of the bursa.) For those who continue to experience pain on a daily basis and who cannot wear most types of shoe comfortably, surgical treatment may be the best choice.
Bunions are readily apparent – the prominence is visible at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate the condition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformity and assess the changes that have occurred. Because bunions are progressive, they don?t go away, and will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike – some bunions progress more rapidly than others. Once your surgeon has evaluated your bunion, a treatment plan can be developed that is suited to your needs.
Non Surgical Treatment
In most cases the symptoms of bunions can be reduced or relieved without surgery. Reducing pressure on the bunion is the first step in reducing the pain associated with the condition. Wearing correctly fitting shoes is important in achieving this. A referral to a podiatrist may be made in order to assess the need for special orthotic devices, such as custom-made arch supports and shoe inserts (eg: metatarsal pad or bar). These can help to relieve tension on the base of the big toe and help prevent flat-footedness. Specific exercises and bunion pads available over-the-counter at pharmacies may also be of benefit. Anti-inflammatory medicines can help to ease pain in the short term. Steroid injections may be used to relieve severe pain. If a sufficient reduction in symptoms is not achieved by non-surgical treatment, then surgery may be recommended.
Larger bunions often require the surgeon to move the entire bone over (1st metatarsal). This is accomplished by a cut or fusion at the bottom of the bone. The former technique, is called the Lapidus bunionectomy. Additionally, the repositioned bone is held in place with one or two surgical screws.