If you have bunions, taking care of them now can help you avoid more serious treatment later. A bunion is a bump that forms on the joint of the big toe when bone or tissue moves out of place and extends beyond the normal anatomy of the toe. Left untreated, bunions can cause debilitating pain and may require surgery to correct.
You may get bunions if the way your foot is shaped puts too much pressure on your big toe joint. Because bunions can run in families, some experts believe that the inherited shape of the foot makes some people more likely to get them. Your foot rolls inward too much when you walk. A moderate amount of inward roll, or pronation, is normal. But damage and injury can happen with too much pronation. You have flat feet. You often wear shoes that are too tight. All of these may put pressure on the big toe joint. Over time, the constant pressure forces the big toe out of alignment, bending it toward the other toes.
If a foot bunion is developing, you may experience some of these symptoms. Bulge or bump on the outside of the base of your big toe. Swelling. Redness. Soreness. Thickening of the skin in that location. Corns or calluses. Limited movement of your big toe. Persistent or periodic pain. The pain you experience may be mild or severe. It may become increasingly difficult to walk in your normal shoes. The pressure on your other toes can cause your toenails to grow inward or your smaller toes to become bent.
Generally, observation is adequate to diagnose a bunion, as the bump is obvious on the side of the foot or base of the big toe. However, your physician may order X-rays that will show the extent of the deformity of the foot.
Non Surgical Treatment
You can buy orthotics over the counter from pharmacies, or they can be custom-made by a podiatrist to fit your feet. Whether you need to buy an over-the-counter orthotic or have one specially made will depend on your individual circumstances and the severity of your bunion. You can also use special bunion splints, worn over the top of your foot and your big toe to help straighten its alignment. Splints are available for both daytime and night-time use. However, there's little evidence that splints are effective. Toe spacers are also available, which can help reduce the pain caused by bunions. However, toe spacers or orthotics may be of limited use because they often compete with the bunion for the already limited space in the shoe. If your toe joint is painful and swollen, applying an ice pack to the affected area several times a day can help to relieve the pain and inflammation. Never apply ice directly to your skin. Wrap it in a cloth or tea towel. A bag of frozen vegetables makes a good ice pack. It's recommended that you wear flat or low-heeled, wide-fitting shoes if you have a bunion. Shoes made from soft leather are ideal because they'll relieve any pressure on the bunion. Avoid narrow or slip-on shoes. High heels can also make your bunion worse by putting excessive pressure on your toes.
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).