A bunion occurs when the big to begins to deviate towards the second toe. The biggest misconception is that bunions occur from an overgrowth of bone. While this may be true in very few people, the bunion really represents a dislocation or subluxation of the big toe joint and it bulges against the skin. This bony prominence is what is commonly called a bunion. Sometimes the bunion area may become irritated, red and/or callused.
Although they may develop on the fifth (little) toe, bunions usually occur at the base of the big toe. Bunions are often caused by incorrect foot mechanics. The foot may flatten too much, forcing the toe joint to move beyond normal range. In some cases, joint damage caused by arhritis or an injury produces a bunion. And some people are simply born ith extra bone near a toe joint. If you're at risk for developing a bunion, wearing high-heeled or poorly fitting shoes make the problem worse. As new bone grows, the joint enlarges. This stretches the joint's outer covering. Force created by the stretching pushes the big toe toward the smaller ones. Eventually, the inside tendons tighten, pulling the big toe farther out of alignment.
The most common complaint with bunions is pain that develops over the large bump due to shoe pressure. A red, inflamed area can develop, called a bursa. With ongoing pressure, the inflammation can cause throbbing, as it presses against the blood vessels, or swelling in the joint. Shooting pains occur when the swelling presses against the nerve. If left untreated, the constant irritation can lead to arthritis that breaks down the joint, resulting in pain and stiffness.
Clinical findings are usually specific. Acute circumferential intense pain, warmth, swelling, and redness suggest gouty arthritis (see Gout) or infectious arthritis (see Acute Infectious Arthritis), sometimes mandating examination of synovial fluid. If multiple joints are affected, gout or another systemic rheumatic disease should be considered. If clinical diagnosis of osteoarthritic synovitis is equivocal, x-rays are taken. Suggestive findings include joint space narrowing and bony spurs extending from the metatarsal head or sometimes from the base of the proximal phalanx. Periarticular erosions (Martel sign) seen on imaging studies suggest gout.
Non Surgical Treatment
When a bunion first begins to develop, take good care of your feet. Wear wide-toed shoes. This can often solve the problem and prevent you from needing more treatment. Wear felt or foam pads on your foot to protect the bunion, or devices called spacers to separate the first and second toes. These are available at drugstores. Try cutting a hole in a pair of old, comfortable shoes to wear around the house.
Surgery should only be considered for bunions that are painful, not for correction of the cosmetic appearance! The primary indication for operative intervention should be pain that is not relieved by appropriate non-operative management. Although symptom-free bunions can slowly increase in size over time surgical treatment is not recommended unless significant pain symptoms develop. The prolonged recovery time associated with most bunion operations, combined with the potential for complications means that patients should be extremely cautious of undergoing bunion surgery for purely cosmetic reasons.