The classic bunion is a bump on the side of the great toe joint. This bump represents an actual deviation of the 1st metatarsal. In addition, there is also deviation of the great toe toward the second toe. In severe cases, the great toe can either lie above or below the second toe.
Although bunions tend to run in families, it is the foot type that is passed down-not the bunion. Parents who suffer from poor foot mechanics can pass their problematic foot type on to their children, who in turn are prone to developing bunions. The abnormal functioning caused by this faulty foot development can lead to pressure being exerted on and within the foot, often resulting in bone and joint deformities such as bunions and hammertoes.
Bunions or hallux valgus tend to give pain predominantly from the metatarsal head on the inner border of the foot. The bunion tends to be painful mainly when in enclosed shoes and so is often more symptomatic in winter. As the front part of the foot splays and the great toe moves across towards the 2nd toe a bunion can also produce pain from the 2nd toe itself. The pain which a bunion produces on the 2nd toe is either due to direct rubbing between the great toe and the 2nd toe, a hammer toe type deformity produced due to crowding of the 2nd toe by the bunion and the 3rd toe.The hammer toe will either be painful from its top aspect where it rubs directly on shoe wear or its under surface in the area of the 2nd metatarsal head. This is made prominent and pushed to the sole of the foot by the 2nd toe rising upwards and driving the metatarsal head downwards.
Looking at the problem area on the foot is the best way to discover a bunion. If it has the shape characteristic of a bunion, this is the first hint of a problem. The doctor may also look at the shape of your leg, ankle, and foot while you are standing, and check the range of motion of your toe and joints by asking you to move your toes in different directions A closer examination with weight-bearing X-rays helps your doctor examine the actual bone structure at the joint and see how severe the problem is. A doctor may ask about the types of shoes you wear, sports or activities (e.g., ballet) you participate in, and whether or not you have had a recent injury. This information will help determine your treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
The choice of treatment for a bunion lies between non-operative (conservative) and operative treatment. Conservative treatment for a bunion means either wearing wider fitting shoes or shoes with softer leather or using some form of a spacer between the big toe and 2nd toe (or alternatively some form of splint to keep the great toe away from the 2nd toe). The spacers or splintage may apparently straighten the bunion but they make no difference to the width of the foot, and the splaying of the 1st and 2nd metatarsals which occur with a bunion deformity. Therefore this type of treatment will not improve the main pain in a bunion which occurs due to the width of the forefoot. An arch type support orthotic may be useful if a bunion is associated with a flatter foot. If you have a bunion this is however just one other thing to get into a shoe with an already wide foot.
Bunion Surgery Is Not Cosmetic Surgery. Bunions may not be pretty, but cosmetic deformity is not a good reason to perform surgery. There are too many potential complications to perform a bunion surgery simply for cosmetic reasons. Patients Must Have Realistic Expectations. Bunion surgery can be helpful at relieving pain, but patients should not expect to have "normal" feet after surgery. In one study, a leading researcher on foot problems such as bunions, found that 1/3 of his patients could not wear the type of shoe they desired prior to surgery. The Foot Width Change Is Small. Bunion surgery decreases the width of the forefoot by about 1/8 of an inch. That's not much! That is the reason why even after surgery, most patients will not be wearing slender shoes. Surgery can be an excellent treatment option for patients with problems from their bunions. That said, patients must understand this is a procedure that has potential complications and a lengthy rehabilitation. The patients who tend to be unsatisfied with bunion surgery are those patients who are having surgery done to allow them to have normal looking feet or allow them to wear slim shoes. If that sounds like your motivation, think long and hard about surgery. Surgery should be reserved for those patients who have significant pain, and are unable to correct the problem with adaptive footwear.