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.
What causes bunions? This question is often answered by blaming shoes. But in fact, shoes only play a small role in developing bunions. Yes, shoes, especially high heels cause abnormal squeezing of your forefoot. This in turn to help promote a bunion. But if everyone who wore high heels shoes had a bunion, there would be a lot more then the 15% prevalence we see in the general population. As you can see from the flow chart, genetics plays the major role in development of bunion deformities. Genetics determines the way your foot functions. Are you flatfooted? Are your joints flexible or stiff? Do you have a high arch? Do you have tight muscles? These traits are determined by your genetic code. These characteristics then govern how your bones and joints move when you walk. As an example, if your joints are very flexible, this can cause an abnormal amount of instability in your forefoot when you walk. Over time, this abnormal motion will cause the a bunion to develop by allowing your first metatarsal to "drift" towards the mid-line of your body.
Your bunion may not cause any symptoms. Or you may have pain in your big toe, red or irritated skin over the bunion, and swelling at the base of the big toe. The big toe may point toward the other toes and cause problems in other toes, such as hammer toe . A bunionette can cause similar symptoms at the base of the little toe.
Your doctor will ask questions about your past health and carefully examine your toe and joint. Some of the questions might be: When did the bunions start? What activities or shoes make your bunions worse? Do any other joints hurt? The doctor will examine your toe and joint and check their range of motion. This is done while you are sitting and while you are standing so that the doctor can see the toe and joint at rest and while bearing weight. X-rays are often used to check for bone problems or to rule out other causes of pain and swelling. Other tests, such as blood tests or arthrocentesis (removal of fluid from a joint for testing), are sometimes done to check for other problems that can cause joint pain and swelling. These problems might include gout , rheumatoid arthritis , or joint infection.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is no way to eliminate existing bunions except to have them surgically removed. There are nonsurgical measures you can take to alleviate the pain and prevent your bunions from increasing in severity, and for that reason it's important to see your doctor before they become a serious problem. The more extensive your bunions are, the less effective nonsurgical treatments are. On the other hand, most bunions can be dealt with without surgery through wearing roomier, low-heel shoes, padding and taping your feet, using medications for pain control, going to physical therapy to relieve inflammation and wearing orthotics in your shoes to correct mechanical problems. Bunions that are not causing pain generally aren't appropriate for surgery. Roomier shoes. You should seek out shoes that conform to the shape of your feet as much as possible and provide plenty of room in the toe box, ensuring that your toes are not pinched or squeezed. You should make sure that, while standing, there is a half inch of space for your longest toe at the end of each shoe. Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably in the widest part of the shoe. Feet normally swell during the course of the day, so shop for shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are at their largest. Don't be vain about your shoe size, sizes vary by brand, so concentrate on making certain your shoes are comfortable. Remember that your two feet are very likely to be different sizes and fit your shoe size to the larger foot. Low-heel shoes. High heels shift all your body weight onto your toes, increasing the pressure on your toes and their joints tremendously. Instead, wear shoes with low (less than two inches) or flat heels that fit your foot comfortably. Padding and Taping. Padding the bunion can minimize pain and allow you to walk more normally. Specially designed pads for this are available at most drugstores. Taping your foot can reduce stress and pain in it by helping it stay in a more normal position. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help deal with pain and inflammation caused by your bunion. Cortisone injections may be prescribed for the same purpose. If your bunion is a consequence of arthritis in the MTP joint, your physician may prescribe medications for that. Physical Therapy. Ultrasound treatments and whirlpool baths can help reduce pain and inflammation in bunions and related tissues. Orthotics are shoe inserts that can help correct mechanical foot-motion problems to reduce pain and prevent worsening of your bunion. Other measures. Icing and elevating your foot when your bunion is painful may help. Having your shoes stretched at a shoe repair shop may help also.
If these methods fail, then surgery may be suggested. Basically, bunion surgery is performed to improve function or to prevent pain from occurring. When surgery is delayed in a symptomatic foot, greater amounts of arthritis can develop and the more complicated surgery can become. Surgery is performed to improve alignment and function to the big toe joint. The large bump is removed and, sometimes, a cut is made into the bone, to move it to a more normal position. Screws, pins and wires can be used beneath the skin, to improve healing and results. Healing can range from 3-12 weeks, depending on the procedure.