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.
Abnormality in foot function, particularly a pronated foot. This is probably the most important and common causative factor. Family history of bunions. Narrow toed dress shoes and high heels may contribute to the formation of a bunion. Rheumatoid and Psoriatic arthritis. Genetic and neuromuscular disease (eg. Down’s,Ehler-Danlos and Marfan’s syndromes) resulting in muscle imbalance. Limb length inequality can cause a bunion on the longer limb. Generalized laxity of the ligaments. Trauma to or surgery on the soft tissue structures around the great toe (first metatarsal-phalangeal) joint.
SymptomsLook for an angular, bony bump on the side of the foot at the base of the big toe. Sometimes hardened skin or a callus covers this bump. There’s often swelling, redness, unusual tenderness, or pain at the base of the big toe and in the ball of the foot. Eventually, the area becomes shiny and warm to the touch. Seek medical advice if you have persistent pain when walking normally in otherwise comfortable, flat-soled shoes, you may be developing a bunion, bursitis, or a bone spur in your foot.
Most patients are diagnosed to have bunions from clinical history and examination. However, in some cases, X-rays will be performed to determine the extent of damage to the joint. Furthermore, it will enable the treating doctor to decide on the best course of management of the patient.
Non Surgical Treatment
A range of treatments is available for bunions, including painkillers, modifying footwear, orthotics, such as insoles, bunion pads and toe spacers. Surgery may be considered if a person’s symptoms are severe and do not respond to non-surgical treatment. The type of surgery used will depend on the level of deformity, the severity of any other associated symptoms, the patient’s age and any other associated medical conditions. Bunion surgery is usually effective, with up to 85% of cases resulting in improvement to symptoms. However, the deformity can sometimes return after bunion surgery.
There are a range of different surgeries that can be performed with the goal of realigning the joint and relieving pain ranging from shaving off part of the bone to cutting and realigning the bone with pins and screws. Depending on the surgery full recovery can take months and require you to stay off the foot. One new type of surgery, called a tightrope, involves attaching a wire to the bone to try and pull it back into alignment, but be wary of this procedure because there have not been any long-term outcome studies yet.