A bunion (hallux abducto valgus) is a bony lump or enlargement that forms in the joint (metatarsal phalangeal joint) at the base of the big toe. The big toe points toward the other toes (lateral deviation) as the bunion progresses. The joint and surrounding tissue becomes inflamed and painful. Occasionally bunions can also form at the joint at the base of the smallest (fifth) toe. They are called a tailor’s bunion or bunionette. Bunions can be accompanied by bursitis (inflammation of a small fluid-filled sac adjacent to the joint). With an advanced bunion the big toe may be so deformed that it has to lie over or under the second toe. In this situation it hurts to walk or wear any kind of shoe. About one in three people in most Western countries will get a bunion. They are about ten times more common in women than in men. Older people are more often affected than younger people, although bunions do occur in children with misaligned feet. Bunions should not be confused with gout or arthritis, which can also cause inflammation, deformity and pain around the toes and feet.
A true bunion or hallux valgus results from a drifting inwards of the big toe metatarsal from its normal position closer to the second metatarsal. The bunion is the head of this first metatarsal which produces the prominence on the inner side of the now wider foot. Tendons run circumferentially around the metatarsal and toe. They both move and stabilise the toe under normal circumstances. In a bunion or hallux valgus, with the shift/displacement of the first metatarsal these tendons no longer lie in the correct axis and in fact act as a deforming force, contributing to the bunion condition.
SymptomsCorns and calluses may occur on the soles of the feet, in between toes and on the bunion joint. Stiffness can occur at the big toe due to secondary arthritis, this is known as Hallux Rigidus. Other foot conditions can occur such as in growing toenails and in severe cases the bunion joint may have a fluid filled sack called a bursitis. This can be very painful and can become infected.
Before examining your foot, the doctor will ask you about the types of shoes you wear and how often you wear them. He or she also will ask if anyone else in your family has had bunions or if you have had any previous injury to the foot. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose a bunion just by examining your foot. During this exam, you will be asked to move your big toe up and down to see if you can move it as much as you should be able to. The doctor also will look for signs of redness and swelling and ask if the area is painful. Your doctor may want to order X-rays of the foot to check for other causes of pain, to determine whether there is significant arthritis and to see if the bones are aligned properly.
Non Surgical Treatment
Early treatment of bunions is centered on providing symptomatic relief. Switching to a shoe with a rounder, deeper toe box and made of a softer more pliable leather will often provide immediate relief. The use of pads and cushions to reduce the pressure over the bone can also be helpful for mild bunion deformities. Functional foot orthotics, by controlling abnormal pronation, reduces the deforming forces leading to bunions in the first place. These may help reduce pain in mild bunion deformities and slow the progression of the deformity. When these conservative measures fail to provided adequate relief, surgical correction is indicated.
For those whose bunions cause persisting pain, a surgical operation is considered for correction of the bunion. The surgical operation to correct a bunion is referred to as a bunionectomy. Surgical procedures can correct deformity and relieve pain, leading to improved foot function. These procedures typically involve removing bony growth of the bunion while realigning the big toe joint. Surgery is often, but not always, successful; failure to relieve pain can result from the big toe moving back to its previous deviated position even after surgery. However, proper footwear and orthotics can reduce the chances of surgical failure.