A bunion forms when the bursa (a sac of fluid at friction points between the tendons and bone in some areas and between bone and the skin in others) becomes inflamed along the edge of the joint at the base of the big toe. There are two types of bunions. The acute bunion causes the sharper pain. It develops from a bursitis, a sudden outcropping of a fluid-filled sac. An acute bunion can progress into the second type of bunion, the hallux valgus, a chronic but often painless deformity involving permanent rigidity of the bones. Bunions can form in any part of the foot but occur most often at the big toe joint, where the first metatarsal bone abuts the proximal phalanx of the big toe. Women are more likely than men to get bunions because of the misshapen footwear and elevated heels they wear.
While the precise cause is not known, there seem to be inherited (genetic) factors that lead to abnormal foot pain every morning (carollomb.hatenablog.com) function like overpronation that can predispose to the development of bunions. This is especially common when bunions occur in younger individuals. This abnormal biomechanics can lead to instability of the metatarsal phalangeal joint and muscle imbalance resulting in the deformity. Although shoe gear doesn't directly cause a bunion, it can certainly make the bunion painful and swollen. Other less common causes of bunion deformities include trauma (sprains, fractures, and nerve injuries), neuromuscular disorders (polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) and limb-length discrepancies (one leg shorter than the other) where the longer leg develops the bunion.
SymptomsThe most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain on the side of the foot just behind the great toe. A red painful bump is usually present. Pain is usually brought on with walking or sports. Shoes don't cause bunions but will typically aggravate them. Stiff leather shoes or shoes with a tapered toe box are the prime offenders. This is why bunion pain is most common in women whose shoes have a pointed toe box. The bunion site will often be slightly swollen and red from the constant rubbing and irritation of a shoe. Occasionally, corns can develop between the 1st and 2nd toe from the pressure the toes rubbing against each other.
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
In most cases the symptoms of bunions can be reduced or relieved without surgery. Reducing pressure on the bunion is the first step in reducing the pain associated with the condition. Wearing correctly fitting shoes is important in achieving this. A referral to a podiatrist may be made in order to assess the need for special orthotic devices, such as custom-made arch supports and shoe inserts (eg: metatarsal pad or bar). These can help to relieve tension on the base of the big toe and help prevent flat-footedness. Specific exercises and bunion pads available over-the-counter at pharmacies may also be of benefit. Anti-inflammatory medicines can help to ease pain in the short term. Steroid injections may be used to relieve severe pain. If a sufficient reduction in symptoms is not achieved by non-surgical treatment, then surgery may be recommended.
According to the NHS, 85 per cent of operations are successful, but there?s no guarantee that the problem won?t recur, that the pain will go away, or that your movement won?t become limited. Ask yourself if the affront to your vanity and discomfort caused by your bunion is worth the post-op suffering, and if you can cope with the inevitable restriction on your movement that means no driving and time off work, even if only for a few weeks.
If you are genetically at risk, not a lot. But shoes that are too narrow, too tight (even ballet flats) or have very high heels that force your toes down into the pointed end are asking for trouble. Aim for a 1cm gap between your toes and the end of your shoes. This doesn?t mean wearing frumpy flatties, the Society of Podiatrists and Chiropodists recommends sticking to 4cm heels for everyday wear, and wearing different types of shoe to vary the position of your foot. Gladiator styles can help because the straps stop your foot pushing down into the point of the shoe, ditto Mary Janes (sorry but for beautiful feet they need to have a strap), and flat, wide-fitting brogues are a no-brainer. Alternatively, in summer you can wear flip-flops to keep the space between your big and second toe as wide as possible. If you have children it?s vital to make sure that their feet are measured for properly fitting shoes to nip any potential problems in the bud. Keeping your feet and lower legs supple and strong is important too, that?s how A-list celebs get away with wearing killer heels, they all work-out like crazy. Exercises like trying to widen the space between your big toe and the second one with your foot flat on the floor, a few times a day can help, as can calf stretches. If you are devoted to any exercise that involves high impact for your feet, it might be worth checking that your gait and shoes are correct with a specialist shop such as Runners Need, as poor styles can cause irreparable bunion-related problems that will consign your trainers to the back of the cupboard for ever.
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