Hallux valgus may sound like a curse from Harry Potter, but it?s the medical term for a bunion, a bony growth where the big toe joins the foot. At best a bunion is an unsightly bump which can get a bit red and sore. If it gets big enough it limits the type of shoes you can wear, and sometimes a painful sac of fluid known as a bursa develops around it. But left untreated, a bunion really can become a curse if it starts to push the big toe towards the smaller ones, causing more problems such as hammer toes, or problems in the spine and legs.
What causes bunions? This question is often answered by blaming shoes. But in fact, shoes only play a small role in developing bunions. Yes, shoes, especially high heels cause abnormal squeezing of your forefoot. This in turn to help promote a bunion. But if everyone who wore high heels shoes had a bunion, there would be a lot more then the 15% prevalence we see in the general population. As you can see from the flow chart, genetics plays the major role in development of bunion deformities. Genetics determines the way your foot functions. Are you flatfooted? Are your joints flexible or stiff? Do you have a high arch? Do you have tight muscles? These traits are determined by your genetic code. These characteristics then govern how your bones and joints move when you walk. As an example, if your joints are very flexible, this can cause an abnormal amount of instability in your forefoot when you walk. Over time, this abnormal motion will cause the a bunion to develop by allowing your first metatarsal to "drift" towards the mid-line of your body.
Bunions are an often painful condition that may become even more painful as extra bone and a fluid-filled sac grow at the base of your big toe. Some of the most frequently experienced signs and symptoms associated with bunions, besides pain, include redness in your affected area. Blistering over your bunion. Callus formation around your bunion. Bursitis. Nerve damage (numbness and/or sharp pains) in your involved area. Bunions may also cause pain within and below your first metatarsophalangeal, or MTP, joint. Your bunion may become further dislocated and unstable as it progresses and may overload your adjacent joints.
Most patients are diagnosed to have bunions from clinical history and examination. However, in some cases, X-rays will be performed to determine the extent of damage to the joint. Furthermore, it will enable the treating doctor to decide on the best course of management of the patient.
Non Surgical Treatment
Making sure that shoes don't press against the bunion worsening the pain is the first line of treatment. Protecting the bunion with felt or foam pads or devices to separate the first and second toes at night may be recommended as may cutting a hole in a pair of old, comfortable shoes to take the pressure off the bony protrusion. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be recommended to help relieve toe pain. In rare cases, physicians may administer injections of corticosteroids to treat the inflamed bursa (fluid-filled sac located in a joint) sometimes seen with bunions. Custom orthotic devices are another option that may be beneficial in some cases.
For more severe cases, surgery may be necessary. Bunion surgery aims to bring your big toe back into its correct position. Several different surgical procedures have been used to treat bunions. These include 'shaving' excess bone, removing the end of one of the bones or breaking and re-aligning the misplaced bone. Rehabilitation from bunion surgery can be quite long and usually involves you keeping off your foot for some weeks. It may take a year or more for complete recovery.
The best way to reduce your chances of developing bunions is to wear shoes that fit properly. Shoes that are too tight or have high heels can force your toes together. Bunions are rare in populations that don?t wear shoes. Make sure your shoes are the correct size and that there's enough room to move your toes freely. It's best to avoid wearing shoes with high heels or pointy toes.