A bunion is the enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe. It occurs as a result of the misalignment of the bones of the big toe. This leads to stretching of the ligaments and tendons around the big toe joint and causes soft tissue over the joint to become inflamed and painful. There may be additional bone formation (exostosis) in the joint and the skin around the joint may become red and tender. Over time the cartilage in the joint can break down, leading to arthritis.
The underlying cause is a deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe. The deformity is called hallux valgus. In this deformity the joint develops a prominent sideways angle. Due to this deformity the bones of the big toe are pushed towards the smaller toes. The skin over the angled joint then tends to rub on the inside of shoes. This may cause thickening and inflammation of the overlying skin and tissues next to the affected joint. In most cases it is not clear why a hallux valgus deformity develops. There may be some hereditary (genetic) tendency to have a weakness of this joint. In some cases it is associated with a joint problem such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. However, whatever the underlying cause, wearing tight or badly fitting shoes tends to make the problem worse. Wearing such shoes puts extra pressure on the big toe joint and causes friction on the overlying skin.
A bunion, also called a hallux valgus, is a bony prominence on the inside of the big toe, caused by a misalignment of the joint. The overlying skin maybe swollen, red and tender. Bunions are often painful and can limit what shoes you can wear.
Looking at the problem area on the foot is the best way to discover a bunion. If it has the shape characteristic of a bunion, this is the first hint of a problem. The doctor may also look at the shape of your leg, ankle, and foot while you are standing, and check the range of motion of your toe and joints by asking you to move your toes in different directions A closer examination with weight-bearing X-rays helps your doctor examine the actual bone structure at the joint and see how severe the problem is. A doctor may ask about the types of shoes you wear, sports or activities (e.g., ballet) you participate in, and whether or not you have had a recent injury. This information will help determine your treatment.
Non Surgical Treatment
You can buy orthotics over the counter from pharmacies, or they can be custom-made by a podiatrist to fit your feet. Whether you need to buy an over-the-counter orthotic or have one specially made will depend on your individual circumstances and the severity of your bunion. You can also use special bunion splints, worn over the top of your foot and your big toe to help straighten its alignment. Splints are available for both daytime and night-time use. However, there's little evidence that splints are effective. Toe spacers are also available, which can help reduce the pain caused by bunions. However, toe spacers or orthotics may be of limited use because they often compete with the bunion for the already limited space in the shoe. If your toe joint is painful and swollen, applying an ice pack to the affected area several times a day can help to relieve the pain and inflammation. Never apply ice directly to your skin. Wrap it in a cloth or tea towel. A bag of frozen vegetables makes a good ice pack. It's recommended that you wear flat or low-heeled, wide-fitting shoes if you have a bunion. Shoes made from soft leather are ideal because they'll relieve any pressure on the bunion. Avoid narrow or slip-on shoes. High heels can also make your bunion worse by putting excessive pressure on your toes.
Bunion surgery generally involves repositioning the maligned bones with a bone cut (osteotomy) and/or bone mending procedure (fusion). As such, the time it takes for bones to set or mend in the corrected position generally takes six weeks. Smokers and those in poor medical health may take longer to mend the bone. The biology of bone healing is about six weeks, that time frame can't be made quicker. What can be changed is the disability that one experiences while the bone is mending.