A hallux abducto valgus deformity, commonly called a bunion, is a deformity characterized by medial deviation of the great toe, often erroneously described as an enlargement of bone or tissue around the joint at the head of the big toe. There is disagreement among medical professionals about the cause of bunions; some see them as primarily caused by the long-term use of shoes, particularly tight-fitting shoes with pointed toes, while others believe that the problem stems from genetic factors that are exacerbated by shoe use. Bunions occur when pressure is applied to the side of the big toe (hallux) forcing it inwards towards, and sometimes under or over, the other toes (angulation). As pressure is applied, the tissues surrounding the joint may become swollen and tender. In a survey of people from cultures that do not wear shoes, no cases of bunions were found, lending credence to the hypothesis that bunions are caused by ill-fitting shoes. The bump itself is partly due to the swollen bursal sac or an osseous (bony) anomaly on the metatarsophalangeal joint. The larger part of the bump is a normal part of the head of the first metatarsal bone that has tilted sideways to stick out at its top.
Causes of bunions are foot injuries, neuromuscular disorders, or congenital deformities. People who suffer from flat feet or low arches are also prone to developing these problems, as are arthritic patients and those with inflammatory joint disease. Occupations that place undue stress on the feet are also a factor; ballet dancers, for instance, often develop the condition. Wearing shoes that are too tight or cause the toes to be squeezed together is also a common factor, one that explains the high prevalence of the disorder among women.
Often the bunion is not painful and the individual leads a normal active life. Other times the bunion can be very painful, even debilitating. Pain is usually very achy and typically radiates to the toes and along the arch of the foot. Due to the abnormal positioning of the bones in the foot, sharp nerve pains could also be present.
Your doctor is very likely to be able to diagnose your bunion simply by examining your foot. Even before that, he or she will probably ask about your family and personal medical history and evaluate the types of shoes you wear. You'll be asked about your symptoms, when they started and when they occur. You may also be asked to flex your toe so that your doctor can get an idea of your range of motion. He or she may order x-rays in order to determine the extent of your deformity.
Non Surgical Treatment
Patients who suffer from bunions are usually referred to a surgeon. Unfortunately, surgery often makes the problem worse. Surgeons will use x-ray technology as a diagnostic tool, which does not always properly diagnose the pain source. Another problem with this approach is that it does not do anything to strengthen the weakened ligament in the foot and, thus, does not alleviate the chronic pain that people with this condition experience. Another standard practice of modern medicine is to use steroids or to prescribe anti-inflammatory medications. However, in the long run, these treatments do more damage than good. Cortisone shots and anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to produce short-term pain benefit, but both result in long-term loss of function and even more chronic pain by actually inhibiting the healing process of soft tissues and accelerating cartilage degeneration. Plus, long-term use of these drugs can lead to other sources of chronic pain, allergies and leaky gut syndrome.
If your bunion has progressed to the point where you have difficulty walking, or experience pain despite accommodating shoes, you may need surgery. Bunion surgery realigns bone, ligaments, tendons and nerves so your big toe can be brought back to its correct position. Orthopedic surgeons have several techniques to ease your pain. Many bunion surgeries are done on a same-day basis, requiring no hospital stay, using an ankle-block anesthesia. A long recovery is common and may include persistent swelling and stiffness.