The foot is made up of many small bones that sit perfectly together forming many joints. The big toe joint comprises of the first metatarsal and the proximal (close) phalanx of the toe. A bunion forms when base of the toe (first metatarsal) drifts away from the second metatarsal. The 1st metatarsal rotates and drops and so no longer sits in its correct alignment. The tip of the first toe then rotates and drifts inwards. Overtime, under the continuing stress of this altered position of the joint and the irritation that this causes, the joint can become inflamed.
Perhaps the most frequent cause of bunion development is the wearing of shoes with tight, pointed toes, or with high heels that shift all of your body's weight onto your toes and also jam your toes into your shoes' toe boxes. It's estimated that more than 50 percent of women have bunions caused by high-heel shoes, and that nine out of 10 people who develop bunions are women. Bunions can also develop on your little toes, in which case they are called bunionettes or tailor's bunions.
In addition to the typical bump, signs of bunions can include red, calloused skin along the foot at the base of the big toe. With bunions, you may also develop calluses on the big toe, sores between the toes, ingrown toenail, and restricted motion of the toe. Some bunions are small and painless and some are large and extremely painful. Pressure from shoes worsens the problem.
Bunions are readily apparent - the prominence is visible at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate the condition, the foot and ankle surgeon may take x-rays to determine the degree of the deformity and assess the changes that have occurred. Because bunions are progressive, they don?t go away, and will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike - some bunions progress more rapidly than others. Once your surgeon has evaluated your bunion, a treatment plan can be developed that is suited to your needs.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of hallux valgus nearly always starts with adapting shoe wear to fit the foot. In the early stages of hallux valgus, converting from a shoe with a pointed toe to a shoe with a wide forefoot (or toe box) may arrest the progression of the deformity. Since the pain that arises from the bunion is due to pressure from the shoe, treatment focuses on removing the pressure that the shoe exerts on the deformity. Wider shoes reduce the pressure on the bunion. Bunion pads may reduce pressure and rubbing from the shoe. There are also numerous devices, such as toe spacers, that attempt to splint the big toe and reverse the deforming forces.
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.
Because bunions develop slowly, taking care of your feet during childhood and early adulthood can pay off later in life. Keep track of the shape of your feet as they develop over time, especially if foot problems run in your family. Exercising your feet can strengthen them. Learn to pick up small objects, like a pencil or pebble, with your toes. Wear shoes that fit properly and don't cramp or pinch your toes. Women should avoid shoes with very high heels or pointed toes.