A bunion is an unnatural, bony hump that forms at the base of the big toe where it attaches to the foot. Often, the big toe deviates toward the other toes. When this occurs, the base of the big toe pushes outward on the first metatarsal bone, which is the bone directly behind the big toe, forming a bunion. If this happens on the little toe and fifth metatarsal, it's called a bunionette. Because a bunion occurs at a joint, where the toe bends in normal walking, your entire body weight rests on the bunion at each step. Bunions can be extremely painful. They're also vulnerable to excess pressure and friction from shoes and can lead to the development of calluses.
Bunions tend to run in families, but that does not mean that if you have a bunion, your children will inevitably have one too. The connection may be that bunions are a bit commoner in people with unusually flexible joints, and this can be hereditary. They are also commoner in women than in men. Bunions do occur in cultures in which shoes are not worn, but much less commonly. Shoes which squeeze the big toe or do not fit properly, or have an excessively high heel, may worsen the deformity, particularly in people who are at higher risk anyway.
In addition to the typical bump, signs of bunions can include red, calloused skin along the foot at the base of the big toe. With bunions, you may also develop calluses on the big toe, sores between the toes, ingrown toenail, and restricted motion of the toe. Some bunions are small and painless and some are large and extremely painful. Pressure from shoes worsens the problem.
Most patients are diagnosed to have bunions from clinical history and examination. However, in some cases, X-rays will be performed to determine the extent of damage to the joint. Furthermore, it will enable the treating doctor to decide on the best course of management of the patient.
Non Surgical Treatment
The choice of treatment for a bunion lies between non-operative (conservative) and operative treatment. Conservative treatment for a bunion means either wearing wider fitting shoes or shoes with softer leather or using some form of a spacer between the big toe and 2nd toe (or alternatively some form of splint to keep the great toe away from the 2nd toe). The spacers or splintage may apparently straighten the bunion but they make no difference to the width of the foot, and the splaying of the 1st and 2nd metatarsals which occur with a bunion deformity. Therefore this type of treatment will not improve the main pain in a bunion which occurs due to the width of the forefoot. An arch type support orthotic may be useful if a bunion is associated with a flatter foot. If you have a bunion this is however just one other thing to get into a shoe with an already wide foot.
Surgery takes place either under local or general anaesthetic and takes about one hour. After surgery you will have either a plaster cast or special dressing on the foot and you will be given a special walking shoe and crutches to use the first few days/weeks. Recovery usually takes approximately 6-8 weeks but swelling often lasts longer and it may take a few months before you are able to wear normal shoes again. Full recovery can take up to a year. Bunion surgery is successful in approximately 85% of cases, but it is vital not to go back to wearing ill-fitting shoes else the problem is likely to return.