A bunion (a.k.a Hallux Valgus) is a common foot condition associated with a prominent bump on the inside of the forefoot (see Figure 1). The word bunion? comes from the Greek root for the word turnip. Bunions can lead to discomfort over the prominence, especially if patients wear tight fitting shoes. It is common for bunions to run in family? and gradually increase over time. The vast majority of bunions can be managed successfully with basic non-operative treatment. Surgery is reserved for patients who have persistent symptoms in spite of appropriate non-operative treatment.
Bunions most commonly affect women. Some studies report that bunions occur nearly 10 times more frequently in women. It has been suggested that tight-fitting shoes, especially high-heel and narrow-toed shoes, might increase the risk for bunion formation. Bunions are reported to be more prevalent in people who wear shoes than in barefoot people. While the precise causes are not known, there also seems to be inherited (genetic) factors that predispose to the development of bunions, especially when they occur in younger individuals. Other risk factors for the development of bunions include abnormal formation of the bones of the foot at birth (congenital), nerve conditions that affect the foot, rheumatoid arthritis, and injury to the foot. Bunions are common in ballet dancers.
No matter what stage your bunion is in, you can be in pain. Though bunions take years to develop, you can experience pain at any stage. Some people don?t have bunion pain at all. Pain from a bunion can be severe enough to keep you from walking comfortably in normal shoes. The skin and deeper tissue around the bunion also may become swollen or inflamed.
X-rays are the best way to determine the amount of deformity of the MTP joint. Blood work may be required to rule out other diseases that may be associated with bunions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Other tests such as bone scans or MRI's are not usually required.
Non Surgical Treatment
Long-term treatment of bunions must be directed towards re-balancing the foot, so that we no longer walk with our weight forced on to the inner border of the foot. This is accomplished by controlling and reducing pronation with the use of a high quality arch support or custom made orthotics. These devices comfortably re-balance the feet and overcome pronation. This reduces the abnormal weight forces on the big toe and its metatarsal head, allowing the feet to function normally. As a result, the deformity should not worsen, and the pain should gradually subside. If the foot is not re-balanced, the deformity and pain will become worse.
In 2010, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidance about a minimally invasive surgical procedure to treat bunions. The aim of the procedure is to repair the tilting of the big toe. The technique can be carried out under a local anaesthetic or a general anaesthetic, using X-rays or an endoscope for guidance. The type of endoscope used will be a long, thin, rigid tube with a light source and video camera at one end. One or more incisions will be made near the big toe so that bone-cutting instruments can be inserted. These will be used to remove the bunion and to divide one or more bones located at the front of the foot. Wires, screws or plates will be used to keep the divided bones in place. After the procedure, you may need to wear a plaster cast or dressing to keep your foot in the correct position until the bones have healed. You may be given a special surgical shoe that enables you to walk on your heel. As the procedure is relatively new, there's little in the way of reliable evidence regarding its safety or effectiveness.
To minimize the chance of developing bunions, never force your feet into shoes that don?t fit. Choose a shoe that conforms to the shape of your foot. Opt for shoes with wider insteps, broad toes, and soft soles. Shoes that are short, tight, or sharply pointed should be avoided.