Hallux valgus, often referred to as "a bunion," is a deformity of the big toe. The toe tilts over towards the smaller toes and a bony lump appears on the inside of the foot. (A bony lump on the top of the big toe joint is usually due to a different condition, called hallux rigidus.) Sometimes a soft fluid swelling develops over the bony lump. The bony lump is the end of the "knuckle-bone" of the big toe (the first metatarsal bone) which becomes exposed as the toe tilts out of place.
Heredity and shoe gear are probably the most likely reason for you to develop a bunion. Bunions occur gradually over time. Tight and/or pointy shoes that crowd the toes may result in a bunion. High heels are also suggested to cause bunions as well. See Causes of Bunions.
Bunions typically start out as a mild bump or outward bending of the big toe. Bunions at this stage are usually only a concern of appearance at this stage, and at this point they often don't hurt much. Over time, the ligaments that connect the bones of the toe stretch out, and the tendons attaching to the big toe gradually pull it farther and farther towards the second toe. Sometimes patients will find their first and second toes begin to press together too much, and they'll often get a painful corn between those toes. As the bunion progresses, the big toe may begin to ride on top of the second toe, or vice versa, creating a second deformity. Others will develop bump pain at the site of the bony enlargement on the side of the foot. A painful bursa may develop at that site. This is particularly true in tight shoes. Many patients also develop a painful callus beneath the foot. Capsulitis and other types of metatarsalgia may develop in the joints beneath these calluses, particularly in the second and third metatarsophalangeal joints (the joints in the ball of the foot). Over time, with the toe held in a crooked position for enough time, arthritis develops in the big toe joint. This will usually result in decreased range of motion of that joint (a condition known as "Hallux Limitis"), which as a result, often causes the patient to changes in the way a patient walks. Often the patient walks in an "out-toed", or duck-like, fashion, which very frequently causes secondary pain in the legs, knee, hip, and low back.
Before examining your foot, the doctor will ask you about the types of shoes you wear and how often you wear them. He or she also will ask if anyone else in your family has had bunions or if you have had any previous injury to the foot. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose a bunion just by examining your foot. During this exam, you will be asked to move your big toe up and down to see if you can move it as much as you should be able to. The doctor also will look for signs of redness and swelling and ask if the area is painful. Your doctor may want to order X-rays of the foot to check for other causes of pain, to determine whether there is significant arthritis and to see if the bones are aligned properly.
Non Surgical Treatment
There is no way to eliminate existing bunions except to have them surgically removed. There are nonsurgical measures you can take to alleviate the pain and prevent your bunions from increasing in severity, and for that reason it's important to see your doctor before they become a serious problem. The more extensive your bunions are, the less effective nonsurgical treatments are. On the other hand, most bunions can be dealt with without surgery through wearing roomier, low-heel shoes, padding and taping your feet, using medications for pain control, going to physical therapy to relieve inflammation and wearing orthotics in your shoes to correct mechanical problems. Bunions that are not causing pain generally aren't appropriate for surgery. Roomier shoes. You should seek out shoes that conform to the shape of your feet as much as possible and provide plenty of room in the toe box, ensuring that your toes are not pinched or squeezed. You should make sure that, while standing, there is a half inch of space for your longest toe at the end of each shoe. Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably in the widest part of the shoe. Feet normally swell during the course of the day, so shop for shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are at their largest. Don't be vain about your shoe size, sizes vary by brand, so concentrate on making certain your shoes are comfortable. Remember that your two feet are very likely to be different sizes and fit your shoe size to the larger foot. Low-heel shoes. High heels shift all your body weight onto your toes, increasing the pressure on your toes and their joints tremendously. Instead, wear shoes with low (less than two inches) or flat heels that fit your foot comfortably. Padding and Taping. Padding the bunion can minimize pain and allow you to walk more normally. Specially designed pads for this are available at most drugstores. Taping your foot can reduce stress and pain in it by helping it stay in a more normal position. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help deal with pain and inflammation caused by your bunion. Cortisone injections may be prescribed for the same purpose. If your bunion is a consequence of arthritis in the MTP joint, your physician may prescribe medications for that. Physical Therapy. Ultrasound treatments and whirlpool baths can help reduce pain and inflammation in bunions and related tissues. Orthotics are shoe inserts that can help correct mechanical foot-motion problems to reduce pain and prevent worsening of your bunion. Other measures. Icing and elevating your foot when your bunion is painful may help. Having your shoes stretched at a shoe repair shop may help also.
Surgical techniques can now not only move the wayward bones into proper alignment but also slide the first metatarsal downwards so that its head is pushed into a normal position. In its proper position, the metatarsal bone can help prevent the over-pronation that caused the formation of the bunion. Combined with proper orthotic devices, this type of surgery has provided excellent results.
Because bunions develop slowly, taking care of your feet during childhood and early adulthood can pay off later in life. Keep track of the shape of your feet as they develop over time, especially if foot problems run in your family. Exercising your feet can strengthen them. Learn to pick up small objects, like a pencil or pebble, with your toes. Wear shoes that fit properly and don't cramp or pinch your toes. Women should avoid shoes with very high heels or pointed toes.