Even though bunions are a common foot deformity, there are misconceptions about them. Many people may unnecessarily suffer the pain of bunions for years before seeking treatment.
What is a Bunion?
A bunion (also referred to as hallux valgus or hallux abducto valgus) is often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. The visible bump reflects changes in the bony framework of the front part of the foot. The big toe leans toward the second toe, rather than pointing straight ahead. This throws the bones out of alignment – producing the bunion’s “bump.” Bunions are a progressive disorder. They begin with a leaning of the big toe, gradually changing the angle of the bones over the years and slowly producing the characteristic bump, which becomes increasingly prominent. Symptoms usually appear at later stages, although some people never have symptoms.
Bunions are most often caused by an inherited faulty mechanical structure of the foot. It is not the bunion itself that is inherited, but certain foot types that make a person prone to developing a bunion. Wearing shoes that crowd the toes will not actually cause a bunion, however faulty foot mechanics and ill-fitting footwear in combination with one another can sometimes make the deformity progressively worse.
Symptoms, which occur at the site of the bunion, may include:
- Pain or soreness
- Inflammation and redness
- A burning sensation
- Possible numbness
Symptoms occur most often when wearing shoes that crowd the toes, such as shoes with a tight toe box or high heels. This may explain why women are more likely to have symptoms than men. In addition, spending long periods of time on your feet can aggravate the symptoms of bunions.
As bunions are progressive, they don’t go away, and will usually get worse over time. Seeking treatment early can delay or halt the progression of a bunion. Early treatments provided by a Podiatrist are aimed at easing the pain of bunions, but they won’t reverse the deformity itself. These include:
- Changes in footwear
- Activity modifications
- Orthotic devices
When Is Surgery Needed?
If non-surgical treatments fail to relieve bunion pain and when the pain of a bunion interferes with daily activities, it may be time to discuss further treatment options with your G.P. In many cases your G.P will refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon for a surgical opinion. Together you can decide if surgery is best for you.