Bunions are the most common deformity that affects the big toe. A bunion is characterized by angling of the big toe towards the lesser toes, and a painful bump over the inside part of the base of the big toe. This prominence (an area called the medial eminence) is caused by angling inwards of the metatarsal bone, and is not an actual growth of bone.
There are many reasons why this deformity occurs such as hereditary factors. Footwear habits. Foot type. Biomechanical factors (pronation). Neuromuscular dysfunction. Ligament Dysfunction (laxity). The most common causative factor is inheriting a foot type from your family that is prone to bunions. Feet that are subjected to pronation also have a higher incidence of attaining HAV deformities. This is a problem that has many causes and more than one may be occurring at the same time.
The main problem is usually the pressure of the shoe over the bony prominence, which causes discomfort or pain. Sometimes the skin over the lump becomes red, blistered or infected. The foot may become so broad that it is difficult to get wide enough shoes. The big toe sometimes tilts over so much that it rubs on the second toe, or pushes it up out of place so it presses on the shoe. Also, the big toe does not work as well with a bunion, and the other toes have to take more of the weight of the body as you walk. This can cause pain under the ball of the foot ("metatarsalgia"). Sometimes arthritis develops in the deformed joint, causing pain in the joint.
Orthopaedic surgeons diagnose bunions on the basis of physical examination and weight bearing x-rays. Two angles are assessed, the intermetatarsal angle, that is between the first and second metatarsals (the bones that lead up to the base of the toes). If this angle exceeds 9? (the angle found in the healthy foot) it is abnormal and referred to as metatarsus primus varus. the hallux valgus angle, that is, the angle of the big toe as it drifts toward the small toe. An angle that exceeds 15? is considered to be a sign of pathology.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is a wide rage of treatment options for those who suffer from bunions. If the bunion is mild and does not require bunion surgery, resting the foot and avoiding excessive exercise or walking will help. Wearing shoes that have a wider toe opening, including sandals, can relieve the rubbing and irritation that comes along with more confining shoes. High-heeled shoes should be avoided as they push the big toe outward and can inflame the joint of a bunion. Anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) usually ease inflammation and target pain as well. If the bunion does become inflamed and irritated, application of an ice pack can reduce swelling and pain. If the inflammation because excessive, cortisone can be injected at the site of the bunion to reduce the swelling at the joint of the big toe.
Sometimes a screw is placed in the foot to hold a bone in a corrected position, other times a pin, wire or plate is chosen. There are even absorbable pins and screws, which are used for some patients. In British Columbia, pins seem to be used most frequently, as they're easier to insert and less expensive. They are typically--but not always--removed at some point in the healing process. But as a general rule, Dr. Schumacher prefers to use screws whenever possible, as they offer some advantages over pins. First, using screws allows you to close over the wound completely, without leaving a pin sticking out of the foot. That allows for a lower infection rate, it allows you to get your foot wet more quickly following the surgery, and it usually allows for a quicker return to normal shoes. Second, they're more stable than pins and wires. Stability allows for faster, more uneventful, bone healing. Third, they usually don't need to be removed down the road, so there's one less procedure involved.
To help prevent bunions, select your style and size of shoes wisely. Choose shoes with a wide toe area and a half-inch of space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Shoes also should conform to the shape of your feet without causing too much pressure.