Do Bunions Require Surgical Procedures?
The original definition of a bunion was a bursa (a fluid-filled sac) on the side of the foot near the base of the big toe. The bursa was caused by a chronic friction of the patient's first metatarsal bone (the bone to which the big toe attaches) and the shoe. Few people go by this definition any longer. Today most people consider a bunion to be the enlarged bone on the side of the foot that typically caused the bursa. Along with this bump, there is usually an associated mis-alignment of the big toe, with it leaning in towards the second toe. In medical jargon, the term for a bunion is "Hallux Abducto Valgus," or "HAV" for short. Though the condition is really slightly different, it may also be known as "Hallux Valgus." Bunions are usually a progressive problem, and can make it difficult to find shoes that fit. The condition is often quite uncomfortable, not only because of the pressure the shoes exert on the bump, but because of the other factors associated with bunions, which we shall discuss shortly. This is usually a progressive problem, and can make it difficult to find shoes that fit. The condition is often quite uncomfortable, not only because of the pressure the shoes exert on the bump, but because of the other factors associated with bunions, which we shall discuss shortly.
Bunions have a number of causes, primarily genetics and bad choices in footwear. We inherit traits like flat feet, abnormal bone structure, and loose ligaments and tendons from our parents. When our feet are weakened by these traits and we stuff them into high heels or shoes which don?t support our feet correctly, the repeated stress on the front of the foot may contribute to the formation of a bunion. Other contributing factors are jobs that demand a lot of time standing, obesity, and sudden hormonal changes and weight gain, as in pregnancy. Unfortunately, bunions can lead to many other foot conditions as well. The joint behind the big toe carries much of your body weight and when the bunion makes it sore, you shift your weight onto other areas of the foot. That?s why we frequently see crossover toes, overlapping toes, hammer toes, corns, calluses, and ingrown toenails accompanying bunions. As pain in your foot increases, you?ll also reduce your activity, becoming more sedentary, which has its own quality-of-life issues.
SymptomsJust because you have a bunion does not mean you have to have pain. There are some people with very severe bunions and no pain and people with mild bunions and a lot of pain. Symptoms for a bunion may include pain on the inside of your foot at the big toe joint. Swelling on the inside of your foot at the big toe joint. Redness on the inside of your foot at the big toe joint. Numbness or burning in the big toe (hallux). Decreased motion at the big toe joint. Painful bursa (fluid-filled sac) on the inside of your foot at the big toe joint. Pain while wearing shoes, especially shoes too narrow or with high heels. Joint pain during activities. Other conditions which may appear with bunions include corns in between the big toe and second toe. Callous formation on the side or bottom of the big toe or big toe joint. Callous under the second toe joint. Pain in the second toe joint.
Physical examination typically reveals a prominence on the inside (medial) aspect of the forefoot. This represents the bony prominence associated with the great toe joint ( the medial aspect of the first metatarsal head). The great toe is deviated to the outside (laterally) and often rotated slightly. This produces uncovering of the joint at the base of the big toe (first metatarsophalangeal joint subluxation). In mild and moderate bunions, this joint may be repositioned back to a neutral position (reduced) on physical examination. With increased deformity or arthritic changes in the first MTP joint, this joint cannot be fully reduced. Patients may also have a callus at the base of their second toe under their second metatarsal head in the sole of the forefoot. Bunions are often associated with a long second toe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Separating the big toe and the next one with a 1 cm thick piece of foam can relieve painful symptoms. This can be fixed in place with some zinc oxide plaster tape and has the effect of straightening the great toe and relieving pressure on the bunion. A taping technique will support the joint and relieve the pressure on the inside of the foot. Off the shelf orthotic insoles can be worn to help correct any biomechanical problems in the foot which may be causing the problem. If the foot rolls in or over pronates then this causes the arch of the foot to flatten and more pressure is placed on the base of the big toe where the bunion forms. A podiatrist is a therapist who specializes in feet. They can do a full gait analysis and make orthotic inserts to correct biomechanical foot problems. Severe cases may require surgery to realign the joint but this is a last resort if conservative treatment has failed.
The decision on bunion operative treatment is usually made on the basis of the level of pain and inconvenience caused by the bunion or second toe. There is no correct answer to the question, bunion pain and inconvenience are both highly subjective. An inability to get into a formal shoe may be a major problem for a business woman or man but no problem at all for someone wearing trainers every day. However in general if a bunion is free of pain then the recommendation would not be for surgery. That said, this is not an absolute. Once a patient has read this section and appreciated what surgery and the recovery entails the patient will be in a better position to discuss the possibility of bunion surgery for their symptoms.