A bunion, which is scientifically referred to as hallux valgus, presents itself as a bump on the side of the big toe. However, the disorder is progressive, which means they tend to get worse over time and develop slowly. It often begins when the big toe starts leaving inward. This slowly moves the current angle of the bones and creates the indicative bump associated with a bunion. The “bump” will become more prominent, the more advanced the condition. Often, symptoms, if noticed at all, will only appear during the later stages.
What Causes Bunions?
Although many people assume that bunions are simply a result of wearing shoes that crowd the toes, this isn’t usually the source of the problem.
Admittedly, though, wearing improperly fitting shoes can exasperate the condition. In actuality, bunions are most often a result of genetics. This means people who suffer from bunions often do so simply because their foot is not structured normally. Degenerative diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can also make a person more likely to develop a bunion as well.
Symptoms of Bunions
- Numbness in the toes or feet.
- A burning sensation in the area of the bunion.
- Redness or inflammation.
- Soreness or pain.
How a Bunion is Diagnosed
The foot specialists at Red Mountain Footcare are often able to diagnose a bunion simply by examining a patient’s foot. However, in some cases, an X-Ray can be helpful as it will enable the podiatrist to see if there is any joint damage, and if so, how much. It also greatly aids in choosing the type of treatment to best address the problem. The following are the most common treatment options associated with bunions:
Before a podiatrist recommends surgery, they often attempt to reduce the pain and treat bunions via nonsurgical treatment. A few of the most common are listed below:
- Padding: A patient can minimize the pain of their bunion by wearing a pad over the bunion area. These pads are often available over the counter, but a podiatrist can also recommend a certain type or provide one.
- Changing Shoe Wear: Although wearing certain shoes cannot cause bunions on its own, as mentioned above, wearing shoes with a wide toe box can lessen the pain associated with the condition. It’s also a good idea to avoid wearing any high-heeled shoe wear or those with pointed toes.
- Medication: Patients are also sometimes encouraged to take anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, in order to treat the inflammation and pain associated with the condition.
- Modifying Activity: Patients can ice the area to minimize the pain of a bunion.
- Orthotic Devices: In certain cases, a podiatrist might recommend a custom orthotic device to treat a bunion.
- Injection Therapy: A less commonly used treatment can include injecting corticosteroids into the area around the joint.
In some cases, surgery is the only remedy for a painful bunion. For example, if the presence of a bunion begins to interfere with a person’s daily activities, surgery can be necessary. There are various procedures that can be utilized to treat bunions. They include correcting the bony structure of the foot, as well as correcting the soft tissue damage that has occurred. The point of surgery is to reduce the deformity causing the bunion and reduce or eliminate the pain. Factors such as a patient’s age, activity level, X-Ray results and the severity of the deformity are all considered when choosing surgery as the treatment plan. In general, patient’s who are still growing, such as teens, are encouraged to make do with nonsurgical treatments until their feet stop growing.
Complications of Bunions
Although the bunion itself is difficult enough to deal with, it can lead to other complications and conditions. A few of these are listed below:
- Bursitis: The bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the bone around the big toe joint, can burst due to a bunion. This leads to a painful condition called bursitis. This condition, if left untreated can eventually lead to arthritis and can damage the tissue covering the joint.
- Metatarsalgia: This painful condition occurs when the ball of your foot hurts and is swollen. Bunions can be one of the causes of metatarsalgia. People who regularly play basketball or jog are at a greater risk for this condition as it is often associated with running and jumping.
- Hammertoe: In some cases, a bunion can result in a bend in the middle joint of either the second, third or fourth toe, which obviously shouldn’t be there. This occurs because the tendons and muscles are forced out of place due to the bunion. This condition is called hammertoe. Podiatrist will sometimes recommend surgery as an option when a hammertoe causes significant problems.
Why It’s Necessary to Address a Bunion
Some people might assume such an innocuous condition could be ignored altogether, especially if the bunion isn’t especially painful. However, the metatarspophalangeal (MTP) joint, which makes up part of the big toe’s anatomy, is crucial to the proper balance and distribution of weight. Therefore, since a bunion can damage this all-important joint function and the surrounding ligaments, tendons and bones, it’s podiatrists’ advise patients to have a bunion examined by a professional, even if it hasn’t caused any significant problems to date. In addition, since a bunion can lead to the above complications, it’s a good idea to get it checked out, even if it isn’t causing pain.
The Next Step
As outlined above, a bunion, even though common, is not a condition that should be ignored. Anyone experiencing this condition should seek out a podiatrist like those at Red Mountain Footcare.