Hallux valgus is a condition that affects the joint at the base of the big toe. The condition is commonly called a bunion. The bunion actually refers to the bump that grows on the side of the first metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. In reality, the condition is much more complex than a simple bump on the side of the toe. Interestingly, this condition almost never occurs in cultures that do not wear shoes. Pointed shoes, such as high heels and cowboy boots, can contribute to the development of hallux valgus. Wide shoes, with plenty of room for the toes, lessen the chances of developing the deformity and help reduce the irritation on the bunion if you already have one.
Various factors, including a tight gastrocnemius (or calf) muscle and instability of the arch, contribute to formation of bunions. The tight calf muscle is often hereditary and can cause a bunion because it forces more loading, or pressure, on the forefoot. Ultimately, this can contribute to instability in the bones, ligaments and tendons that form the arch. When it?s unstable, the arch starts collapsing and the metatarsal can shift. Arch instability can also be brought on by obesity, again, due to chronic overloading of the foot. But, by far, the most common contributing factor is childbirth. Bunions are most common in women who have had children. This happens because the hormones that affect their pelvis during childbirth also affect their feet. The hormone is called relaxin, and it allows bones to move and spread. Over time, it can cause the structure of a woman?s feet to gradually stretch and the metatarsal to shift.
Redness, swelling, or pain along the inside margin of the foot just behind the great toe. Moderate to severe discomfort at the bunion when wearing shoes, particularly if tight fitting. A painful callus may develop over the bunion. Sometimes a painful corn on the adjacent sides of the first and second toes. Irritation if there is overlapping of the first and second toes. Arthritis may cause stiffness and discomfort in the joint between the great toe and the first metatarsal. There may be a fluid filled cyst or bursa between the skin and the "bunion bone". Skin over the bunion may break down causing an ulceration, which can become infected.
Physical examination typically reveals a prominence on the inside (medial) aspect of the forefoot. This represents the bony prominence associated with the great toe joint ( the medial aspect of the first metatarsal head). The great toe is deviated to the outside (laterally) and often rotated slightly. This produces uncovering of the joint at the base of the big toe (first metatarsophalangeal joint subluxation). In mild and moderate bunions, this joint may be repositioned back to a neutral position (reduced) on physical examination. With increased deformity or arthritic changes in the first MTP joint, this joint cannot be fully reduced. Patients may also have a callus at the base of their second toe under their second metatarsal head in the sole of the forefoot. Bunions are often associated with a long second toe.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your podiatrist can recommend exercises, orthoses (special devices inserted into shoes), shoe alterations or night splints (which hold toes straight over night) which may slow the progression of bunions in children. According to experts, ?conservative? measures such as these may help relieve symptoms, though there is no evidence they can correct the underlying deformity. Orthoses are designed to prevent the problem getting worse by decreasing any biomechanical causes of bunions. In other words, if the biomechanical theory is correct (i.e. if your bunions are caused by the way you walk), orthoses may help you walk in a way that doesn?t exacerbate the problem. But it won?t change the already established shape of your foot. For that, you need surgery.
For severe bunions, outpatient surgery may be recommended. Within hours after surgery, you?ll be on your way home and ready for recovery. Your foot will be bandaged following surgery and placed in a surgical shoe which allows you to remain mobile. Immediate weight bearing without the use of casting or crutches is standard post- operative recovery for bunions. In most cases, the majority of healing should occur within a few weeks and you can resume normal activity within a short period of time. Bunion surgery can both reduce pain and improve the appearance of your feet. After surgery it is important to see your podiatrist as scheduled and follow all recovery instructions.
The best way to reduce your chances of developing bunions is to wear shoes that fit properly. Shoes that are too tight or have high heels can force your toes together. Bunions are rare in populations that don?t wear shoes. Make sure your shoes are the correct size and that there's enough room to move your toes freely. It's best to avoid wearing shoes with high heels or pointed toes.