A bunion (a.k.a Hallux Valgus) is a common foot condition associated with a prominent bump on the inside of the forefoot (see Figure 1). The word bunion? comes from the Greek root for the word turnip. Bunions can lead to discomfort over the prominence, especially if patients wear tight fitting shoes. It is common for bunions to run in family? and gradually increase over time. The vast majority of bunions can be managed successfully with basic non-operative treatment. Surgery is reserved for patients who have persistent symptoms in spite of appropriate non-operative treatment.
Bunions are most widely considered to be due to an imbalance in the forces that is exerted across the joint during walking. The resulting abnormal motion and pressure over the joint, over many years (combined with poor fitting footwear) leads to instability in the joint causing hallux valgus and bunions. Bunions are really only a symptom of faulty foot mechanics and are usually caused by a combination of the way we walk, the foot we inherit and inappropriate footwear use.
Movement of the big toe towards the smaller toes. Bulging bump on the outside of the base of the big toe. Restricted movement of the big toe. Swelling, inflammation, redness or soreness around your big toe joint. Persistent or sporadic dull, sharp or aching pain in or around the big toe. Corns, blisters and calluses which can develop when the first and second toes overlap. Over time, more severe symptoms can occur such as arthritis of the big toe, stress fractures and problems walking.
A thorough medical history and physical exam by a physician is necessary for the proper diagnosis of bunions and other foot conditions. X-rays can help confirm the diagnosis by showing the bone displacement, joint swelling, and, in some cases, the overgrowth of bone that characterizes bunions. Doctors also will consider the possibility that the joint pain is caused by or complicated by Arthritis, which causes destruction of the cartilage of the joint. Gout, which causes the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joint. Tiny fractures of a bone in the foot or stress fractures. Infection. Your doctor may order additional tests to rule out these possibilities.
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.
Bunion surgery is most often a day case or one night in hospital. Surgery can be done under ankle block (patient awake) or general anaesthetic. It is best to rest with the foot elevated for the first 2 weeks after surgery. The foot is bandaged and a special sandal supplied by the hospital is worn for 6 weeks. Sensible shoes are to be worn for a further 6 weeks after the bandages are removed. It will take between 3-6 months for the swelling to go down. It will take 12 months before everything completely settles. It is also important to remember that not all bunion operations are entirely successful.
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