The medical terms for bunions are hallux abducto valgus or just hallux valgus. It is a common foot problem, especially among women. It involves having a large bump on the inner aspect of the foot at the site of the connection between the big toe and the foot itself. The bump is actually the base of the big toe which sticks out because the great toe is pushed over toward the second toe rather than pointing in its proper position. Just the big toe can be out of alignment or the some of the other toes can be pointed outward as well.
Bunions don’t happen overnight. The big toe begins to lean toward the second toe first and then the other toes follow suit. The bump happens when the big toe falls out of alignment, its proximal end not properly aligned in the joint socket.
Causes of Bunions
Most people who have bunions have a hereditary propensity for the problem. They inherit a type of foot that is more prone to getting a bunion, especially when wearing shoes that are too tight and crowd the toes together. Tight shoes alone don’t cause bunions in everyone but, if you’re prone to getting bunions, tight shoes will make the problem worse.
Symptoms of a Bunion
The main bunion symptoms are located at the site of the bunion itself. These include the following:
- Redness and inflammation at the site of the bunion.
- Soreness or pain, especially when wearing tight shoes.
- Burning at the site of the bunion.
- Numbness of the great toe or over the site of the bunion.
Your symptoms will be worse if the shoes are too tight or if you are wearing high heels. Because high heels are the culprit in many situations, this is why women tend to get bunions more often than men. If you are on your feet much of the day, the bunion symptoms will be worse.
Diagnosis of Bunions
Bunions can be diagnosed by appearance alone. The bump is usually seen at the base of the great toe or further up on the side of the foot. A physical exam may be all that is necessary; however, sometimes the foot podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon will do an x-ray of the foot to see what the bones look like or to see if the situation has progressed.
Bunions are considered a progressive condition, meaning that you can start out with a small bump that gradually gets bigger over time. The toes progressively move out of alignment so they are pointing outwards in severe cases.
Treatment of Bunions
Bunions can be treated with or without surgery. If you have no symptoms, no treatment may be necessary. The podiatrist may simply follow the condition, doing x-rays every so often to see if it has progressed.
Other non-surgical treatment can include the following:
- Change your shoes. Instead of wearing tight high heels, you will need to buy shoes that are flatter and that are wider to accommodate the bump and keep the pressure off the joint.
- Put padding over the bunion. This can relieve the pain. You can buy bunion padding at the pharmacy or get them from the podiatrist.
- Stay off your feet. Because standing for a long time can make the condition worse, the podiatrist might recommend that you sit more so there is less pressure on the affected joints.
- Over the counter medicine. This can include taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as naproxen sodium or ibuprofen, which ease inflammation and lessen the pain.
- Apply an ice pack. Ice packs applied to the bunion, especially when you are in pain, will decrease the pain and inflammation of the bunion so you can get back on your feet again.
- Corticosteroid injections. This is not often done but if the bursa is inflamed (the sac of fluid near the joint), corticosteroids will be used to shrink the swelling and inflammation of the bursa.
- These are custom fit devices that support and protect the bunion and surrounding foot.
Surgery is sometimes recommended if the non-surgical treatments don’t effectively relieve the pain. There are different types of surgery that can be done but the idea is to remove the bump and align the toes in the proper alignment. The foot will look better, fit better in shoes, and the pain will be reduced.