One of the more common conditions treated by podiatric surgeons is the painful bunion. Patients with this condition will usually complain of pain when wearing certain shoes, especially snug fitting dress shoes, or with physical activity, such as walking or running. Bunions are most commonly treated by conservative means. This may involve shoe gear modification, padding and orthoses. When this fails to provide adequate relief, surgery is often recommended. There are several surgical procedures to correct bunions. Selection of the most appropriate procedure for each patient requires knowledge of the level of deformity, review of the x-rays and an open discussion of the goals of the surgical procedure. Almost all surgical procedures require cutting and repositioning the first metatarsal. In the case of mild to moderate bunion deformities the bone cut is most often performed at the neck of the metatarsal (near the joint).
Bunions are among the most common problems of the foot. They are several possible reasons a bunion may develop, though a biomechanical abnormality (improper function of the foot) is the most common cause. In an unstable flat foot, for example, a muscular imbalance often develops that, over time, causes bunions. Bunions tend to run in families, and most podiatrists believe that genetic factors play a role in predisposing some people to develop bunions. Poor shoes, like high heels and pointed toe boxes--exacerbate the condition by speeding up the development of bunions, and by making bunions more painful. Poor shoe choices is at least one of the reasons bunions are much more common in women than men.
The symptoms of hallux valgus usually center on the bunion. The bunion is painful. The severe hallux valgus deformity is also distressing to many and becomes a cosmetic problem. Finding appropriate shoe wear can become difficult, especially for women who want to be fashionable but have difficulty tolerating fashionable shoe wear. Finally, increasing deformity begins to displace the second toe upward and may create a situation where the second toe is constantly rubbing on the shoe.
People with bunions may be concerned about the changing appearance of their feet, but it is usually the pain caused by the condition that leads them to consult their doctor. The doctor will evaluate any symptoms experienced and examine the affected foot for joint enlargement, tissue swelling and/or tenderness. They will also assess any risk factors for the condition and will ask about family history. An x-ray of the foot is usually recommended so that the alignment of big toe joint can be assessed. This would also allow any other conditions that may be affecting the joint, such as arthritis, to be seen.
Non Surgical Treatment
You can buy orthotics over the counter from pharmacies, or they can be custom-made by a podiatrist to fit your feet. Whether you need to buy an over-the-counter orthotic or have one specially made will depend on your individual circumstances and the severity of your bunion. You can also use special bunion splints, worn over the top of your foot and your big toe to help straighten its alignment. Splints are available for both daytime and night-time use. However, there's little evidence that splints are effective. Toe spacers are also available, which can help reduce the pain caused by bunions. However, toe spacers or orthotics may be of limited use because they often compete with the bunion for the already limited space in the shoe. If your toe joint is painful and swollen, applying an ice pack to the affected area several times a day can help to relieve the pain and inflammation. Never apply ice directly to your skin. Wrap it in a cloth or tea towel. A bag of frozen vegetables makes a good ice pack. It's recommended that you wear flat or low-heeled, wide-fitting shoes if you have a bunion. Shoes made from soft leather are ideal because they'll relieve any pressure on the bunion. Avoid narrow or slip-on shoes. High heels can also make your bunion worse by putting excessive pressure on your toes.
If nonsurgical treatment fails, you may want to consider surgery. Many studies have found that 85 to 90 percent of patients who undergo bunion surgery are satisfied with the results. Reasons that you may benefit from bunion surgery commonly include severe foot pain that limits your everyday activities, including walking and wearing reasonable shoes. You may find it hard to walk more than a few blocks (even in athletic shoes) without significant pain. Chronic big toe inflammation and swelling that doesn't improve with rest or medications. Toe deformity-a drifting in of your big toe toward the small toes. Toe stiffness-inability to bend and straighten your toe. Failure to obtain pain relief from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Their effectiveness in controlling toe pain varies greatly from person to person. Failure to substantially improve with other treatments such as a change in shoes and anti-inflammatory medication. As you explore bunion surgery, be aware that so-called "simple" or "minimal" surgical procedures are often inadequate "quick fixes" that can do more harm than good. And beware of unrealistic claims that surgery can give you a "perfect" foot. The goal of surgery is to relieve as much pain, and correct as much deformity as is realistically possible. It is not meant to be cosmetic.