A bunion is a deformity of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint at the base of the big toe. A bunion develops when the first metatarsal bone of the foot turns outward and the big toe points inward (toward the other toes), causing the joint to jut out. A bunion is most likely to develop when susceptible feet are repeatedly squeezed into narrow, pointed-toe footwear. The big toe pushes against the other toes, sometimes diving over or under them. As a result, the base of the big toe ? the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint ? juts or angles out from the foot.
Essentially, bunions are caused by a disruption of the normal interworking of the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons that comprise your feet, often from wearing shoes that squeeze the toes or place too much weight-bearing stress on them. However, it should be pointed out that other causes or factors in the development of bunions can include flat feet or low arches in the feet, some forms of arthritis, problems with foot mechanics, foot injuries and neuromuscular disorders such as cerebral palsy. Arthritis in the MTP joint, for example, can degrade the cartilage that protects it, and other problems may cause ligaments to become loose. Pronation, walking in a way that your foot rolls inwards, increases your risk for developing bunions.
SymptomsBunions may or may not cause symptoms. A frequent symptom is foot pain in the involved area when walking or wearing shoes; rest relieves this pain. A bunion causes enlargement of the base of the big toe and is usually associated with positioning of the big toe toward the smaller toes. Shoe pressure in this area can cause interment pain while the development of arthritis in more severe bunions can lead to chronic pain. Bunions that cause marked pain are often associated with swelling of the soft tissues, redness, and local tenderness. It is important to note that, in postpubertal men and postmenopausal women, pain at the base of the big toe can be caused by gout and gouty arthritis that is similar to the pain caused by bunions.
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
Apply a commercial bunion pad around the bony prominence, use only non-medicated pads. Wear shoes with a wide and deep toe box. You should be able to “dimple” the leather over your bunion. Avoid all high heeled shoes. If your bunion becomes painful red, and swollen try elevating your foot and applying ice for about 20 minuets every hour. If symptoms persist, consult your podiatrist or physician.
When a surgeon cuts and repositions a bone, it is referred to as an osteotomy. There are two basic techniques used to perform an osteotomy to realign the first metatarsal. In some cases, the far end of the bone is cut and moved laterally (called a distal osteotomy). This effectively reduces the angle between the first and second metatarsal bones. This type of procedure usually requires one or two small incisions in the foot. Once the surgeon is satisfied with the position of the bones, the osteotomy is held in the desired position with one, or several, metal pins. Once the bone heals, the pin is removed. The metal pins are usually removed between three and six weeks following surgery. In other situations, the first metatarsal is cut at the near end of the bone (called a proximal osteotomy). This type of procedure usually requires two or three small incisions in the foot. Once the skin is opened the surgeon performs the osteotomy. The bone is then realigned and held in place with metal pins until it heals. Again, this reduces the angle between the first and second metatarsal bones. Realignment of the big toe is then done by releasing the tight structures on the lateral, or outer, side of the first MTP joint. This includes the tight joint capsule and the tendon of the adductor hallucis muscle. This muscle tends to pull the big toe inward. By releasing the tendon, the toe is no longer pulled out of alignment. The toe is realigned and the joint capsule on the side of the big toe closest to the other toe is tightened to keep the toe straight, or balanced. Once the surgeon is satisfied that the toe is straight and well balanced, the skin incisions are closed with small stitches. A bulky bandage is applied to the foot before you are returned to the recovery room.
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.