The term ?bunion,? as it is popularly used, describes a variety of deformities involving a painful prominence and swelling at the base of the big toe. Orthopaedists use additional terms to describe the different deformities. The condition in which the big toe deviates from the normal position toward the direction of the second toe is referred to as hallux valgus. Dorsal bunions are a different variety in which the prominence appears on the top of the base of the toe, often the result of an arthritic joint.
Many problems that occur in the feet are the result of abnormal pressure or rubbing. One way of understanding what happens in the foot due to abnormal pressure is to view the foot simply. Our simple model of a foot is made up of hard bone covered by soft tissue that we then put a shoe on top of. Most of the symptoms that develop over time are because the skin and soft tissue are caught between the hard bone on the inside and the hard shoe on the outside. Any prominence, or bump, in the bone will make the situation even worse over the bump. Skin responds to constant rubbing and pressure by forming a callus. The soft tissues underneath the skin respond to the constant pressure and rubbing by growing thicker. Both the thick callus and the thick soft tissues under the callus are irritated and painful. The answer to decreasing the pain is to remove the pressure. The pressure can be reduced from the outside by changing the pressure from the shoes. The pressure can be reduced from the inside by surgically removing any bony prominence.
Often the bunion is not painful and the individual leads a normal active life. Other times the bunion can be very painful, even debilitating. Pain is usually very achy and typically radiates to the toes and along the arch of the foot. Due to the abnormal positioning of the bones in the foot, sharp nerve pains could also be present.
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
Depending on how many of the causative factors are true, a series of exercises to ensure correct alignment and stability of the lower limb should be implemented. Supportive foot wear with correct width and arch support can provide relief -shoes such as ballet flats, thongs (flip flops) and Ugg boots (or slippers) should be avoided. Mobilization of the mid foot to help re-align the toe correctly, and then taping and padding in the shoe to keep the toe in alignment. Taping to help draw the 1st metatarsal back in towards the second and correct any rotation and drop of the 1st metatarsal. Foam padding shaped like a donut to off load the pressure on the outside of the big toe.
Bunion Surgery Is Not Cosmetic Surgery. Bunions may not be pretty, but cosmetic deformity is not a good reason to perform surgery. There are too many potential complications to perform a bunion surgery simply for cosmetic reasons. Patients Must Have Realistic Expectations. Bunion surgery can be helpful at relieving pain, but patients should not expect to have "normal" feet after surgery. In one study, a leading researcher on foot problems such as bunions, found that 1/3 of his patients could not wear the type of shoe they desired prior to surgery. The Foot Width Change Is Small. Bunion surgery decreases the width of the forefoot by about 1/8 of an inch. That's not much! That is the reason why even after surgery, most patients will not be wearing slender shoes. Surgery can be an excellent treatment option for patients with problems from their bunions. That said, patients must understand this is a procedure that has potential complications and a lengthy rehabilitation. The patients who tend to be unsatisfied with bunion surgery are those patients who are having surgery done to allow them to have normal looking feet or allow them to wear slim shoes. If that sounds like your motivation, think long and hard about surgery. Surgery should be reserved for those patients who have significant pain, and are unable to correct the problem with adaptive footwear.