A bunion forms when the bursa (a sac of fluid at friction points between the tendons and bone in some areas and between bone and the skin in others) becomes inflamed along the edge of the joint at the base of the big toe. There are two types of bunions. The acute bunion causes the sharper pain. It develops from a bursitis, a sudden outcropping of a fluid-filled sac. An acute bunion can progress into the second type of bunion, the hallux valgus, a chronic but often painless deformity involving permanent rigidity of the bones. Bunions can form in any part of the foot but occur most often at the big toe joint, where the first metatarsal bone abuts the proximal phalanx of the big toe. Women are more likely than men to get bunions because of the misshapen footwear and elevated heels they wear.
It is thought that the primary cause of bunions is a mechanical instability in the big toe joint. There are a number of different reasons as to why this may happen. Bunions tend to run in families so a person with a family history of bunions has an increased risk of developing them. Factors that are known to increase the risk of bunions include wearing improperly fitting shoes (particularly narrow and/or high-heeled shoes). Certain arthritic conditions and ligament disorders. Age (the incidence of bunions increases with age). Being flatfooted with feet that roll inwards (over pronation). Past injury (trauma) to the foot. Nerve conditions affecting the foot. Bunions most commonly affect women (approximately 90% of cases) and are less common in people who do not regularly wear shoes.
If a foot bunion is developing, you may experience some of these symptoms. Bulge or bump on the outside of the base of your big toe. Swelling. Redness. Soreness. Thickening of the skin in that location. Corns or calluses. Limited movement of your big toe. Persistent or periodic pain. The pain you experience may be mild or severe. It may become increasingly difficult to walk in your normal shoes. The pressure on your other toes can cause your toenails to grow inward or your smaller toes to become bent.
X-rays are the best way to determine the amount of deformity of the MTP joint. Blood work may be required to rule out other diseases that may be associated with bunions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Other tests such as bone scans or MRI's are not usually required.
Non Surgical Treatment
Bunion treatment should always start with changing footwear to relieve symptoms and to prevent the bunion from progressing. Shoes with a wide toe-box, minimal slope, and good arch support can help relieve the bunion pain. Some people find that ice application and anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve the inflammation around the bunion.
Bunion surgery is most often a day case or one night in hospital. Surgery can be done under ankle block (patient awake) or general anaesthetic. It is best to rest with the foot elevated for the first 2 weeks after surgery. The foot is bandaged and a special sandal supplied by the hospital is worn for 6 weeks. Sensible shoes are to be worn for a further 6 weeks after the bandages are removed. It will take between 3-6 months for the swelling to go down. It will take 12 months before everything completely settles. It is also important to remember that not all bunion operations are entirely successful.