Bunions (hallux valgus) are often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. But a bunion is more than that. The visible bump actually reflects changes in the bony framework of the front part of the foot. With a bunion, 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 continues to become increasingly prominent. Bunions can be painful, but not always. Bunions are always progressive, so the deformity becomes more prounced over time, even if its not painful.
Bunions may be hereditary, as they often run in families. This suggests that people may inherit a faulty foot shape. In addition, footwear that does not fit properly may cause bunions. Bunions are made worse by tight, poorly-fitting, or too-small shoes. Bunions may also happen due to inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Anyone can get bunions, but they are more common in women. People with flat feet are also more likely to get bunions due to the changes in the foot caused by bunions. There is also a condition called adolescent bunion, which tends to occur in 10-to-15-year old girls.
It is unusual to have much bunion or hallux valgus pain when out of shoe wear or at rest. There are exceptions to this and in particular if symptoms have been ignored during the day and the bunion has become very painful during the day then some symptoms may be present at night. The pain from the region of the great toe at rest or at night is however more often a symptom of an arthritic big toe (hallux rigidus) rather than a straightforward bunion. To confuse matters these two conditions can sometimes coexist. Bunion or hallux valgus pain is most often present when walking in enclosed shoes. There may be little bunion pain in sandals or barefoot. It is unusual to have much bunion pain when not putting weight on the foot or at night. If there is bunion pain at rest or at night then there may also be arthritic change within the toe.
People with bunions may be concerned about the changing appearance of their feet, but it is usually the pain caused by the condition that leads them to consult their doctor. The doctor will evaluate any symptoms experienced and examine the affected foot for joint enlargement, tissue swelling and/or tenderness. They will also assess any risk factors for the condition and will ask about family history. An x-ray of the foot is usually recommended so that the alignment of big toe joint can be assessed. This would also allow any other conditions that may be affecting the joint, such as arthritis, to be seen.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are a number of treatment options for bunions. Non-surgical treatments are usually tried first, including painkillers, orthotics (insoles) and bunion pads. However, these can only help to reduce the symptoms of bunions, such as pain. They don't improve the appearance of your foot.
If the bunion symptoms does not respond to the conservative measures or if the bunion has progressed past a threshold where these measures are not effective, bunion surgery may be necessary to correct alignment and remove the bunion. A large range of types of surgical procedures for bunions are available and the choice will depend on things like what bone or bones are involved, the angular relationship between the different bones, the amount of damage to the joint and the presence of deformities other than the bunion.