A bunion is the enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe. It occurs as a result of the misalignment of the bones of the big toe. This leads to stretching of the ligaments and tendons around the big toe joint and causes soft tissue over the joint to become inflamed and painful. There may be additional bone formation (exostosis) in the joint and the skin around the joint may become red and tender. Over time the cartilage in the joint can break down, leading to arthritis.
Bunions are a common problem that can cause foot pain and difficulty wearing shoes. Bunions occur in about 30% of the population of most Western countries. They are seen most commonly in women and become more common as people get older. Patients with bunions generally have one of two problems that can cause pain. As the big toe becomes more and more angled (pointing toward the other toes), the base of the toe becomes more and more prominent, forming the bunion. The bunion forms in part because of the new angle of the toe, and in part due to inflammation over the bunion surface. As the inflammation worsens, people can experience pain with shoe wear and walking. The big toe may eventually come to lie over, or more commonly under, the second toe. This may cause further irritation while wearing shoes and more pain. The second toe of patients who have bunions commonly forms a hammer toe.
If you have a bunion, you may have pain or stiffness of your big toe joint, swelling of your big toe joint, difficulty walking, difficulty finding shoes that fit. These symptoms may be caused by conditions other than bunions, but if you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor.
The doctor considers a bunion as a possible diagnosis when noting the symptoms described above. The anatomy of the foot, including joint and foot function, is assessed during the examination. Radiographs (X-ray films) of the foot can be helpful to determine the integrity of the joints of the foot and to screen for underlying conditions, such as arthritis or gout. X-ray films are an excellent method of calculating the alignment of the toes when taken in a standing position.
Non Surgical Treatment
The treatment of bunions should be individualized because the degree of deformity is not always consistent with the degree of pain. The most important first step in the treatment (and prevention) of bunions is to wear properly fitted shoes, with a low heel and adequate room in the toe area. Further treatment may include relative rest and icing to decrease pain around the MTP joint, medications to reduce inflammation and pain, stretching and strengthening exercises and shoe orthotics. If the above measures are not successful, surgery may be required.