A bunion is enlargement of bone or tissue that develops at the joint that connects your big toe to your foot. The bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons of your feet normally are well-balanced to distribute your body's weight while standing, walking and running. When the joint, called the metatarsophalangeal joint, or MTP joint, experiences abnormal, prolonged stress in terms of weight distribution or squeezing of the toes within the shoe, the result can be the deformity called a bunion. Generally, a bunion develops when, as a response to prolonged stress, your big toe begins bending toward your foot's smaller toes and puts pressure on your MTP joint, forcing it to bulge outward (the term "bunion" comes from the Latin word for "enlargement"). There is no "standard" bunion, however, but rather a complex range of joint, bone and tendon abnormalities that can cause variation in each bunion's make-up.
The exact cause of bunions is unknown, but they tend to run in families. Wearing badly fitting shoes is thought to make bunions worse. It's also thought that bunions are more likely to occur in people with unusually flexible joints, which is why bunions sometimes occur in children. In some cases, certain health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, may also be responsible.
No matter what stage your bunion is in, you can be in pain. Though bunions take years to develop, you can experience pain at any stage. Some people don?t have bunion pain at all. Pain from a bunion can be severe enough to keep you from walking comfortably in normal shoes. The skin and deeper tissue around the bunion also may become swollen or inflamed.
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
Separating the big toe and the next one with a 1 cm thick piece of foam can relieve painful symptoms. This can be fixed in place with some zinc oxide plaster tape and has the effect of straightening the great toe and relieving pressure on the bunion. A taping technique will support the joint and relieve the pressure on the inside of the foot. Off the shelf orthotic insoles can be worn to help correct any biomechanical problems in the foot which may be causing the problem. If the foot rolls in or over pronates then this causes the arch of the foot to flatten and more pressure is placed on the base of the big toe where the bunion forms. A podiatrist is a therapist who specializes in feet. They can do a full gait analysis and make orthotic inserts to correct biomechanical foot problems. Severe cases may require surgery to realign the joint but this is a last resort if conservative treatment has failed.
There are dozens and dozens of types of surgery designed to address bunion deformities, and each have different indications. But in short, some procedures simply address an enlarged bump. Some simply address a crooked big toe. But in order to slow the return of the bunion deformity, most procedures aim to realign the big toe with the bone behind it, the "first metatarsal." This would also realign the joint surfaces between those two bones. But even if the surgery is designed to realign the big toe, there are still many choices to consider. Some procedures are meant for a short first metatarsal and others for a long first metatarsal. Some are best when the foot is very unstable, others are based on the severity of the arthritis present. In fact, there are many, many factors to consider when designing a procedure to address a particular patient's foot, to the extent that what's involved in a bunion surgery not only varies from patient to patient--the procedures often vary even from a patient's right foot to the left foot.