If you notice a deformity that looks like a bony bump on your big toe joint and are experiencing symptoms such as foot pain and swelling, chances are you have a bunion. Another sign you may have a bunion is if your big toe angles toward your second toe or moves all the way under it.
Bunions (also referred to as hallux valgus or hallux abducto valgus) can be inherited, but they are also associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, narrow shoes with high heels are often blamed for this foot problem or for making existing bunions even worse. However, any type of shoe with a toe box that is too tight or ill-fitting can contribute to the problem.
Small bunions called bunionettes or tailor’s bunions can form next to the little toe. They are often caused by sitting cross-legged, which bears weight on the toe. This eventually causes the toe to bend inwards, while the bone begins to stick outwards.
There is also a condition known as an adolescent bunion that can develop in young teenagers. A key difference between this type of bunion and an adult bunion is that a teenager usually does not have as many issues moving the affected joint.
While surgery is not usually recommended for adolescent bunions, it can be a good option for adults who have pain, a toe deformity, or difficulty walking due to bunions. A doctor, podiatrist, or a foot or ankle surgeon can provide guidance to a patient regarding both nonsurgical and surgical treatments for bunions. He or she may take an X-ray of your foot in order to see the extent of the bunion deformity—specifically, to determine just how far the big toe joint has moved away from the other toes and whether any other bones in the foot or toes have been impacted.
Anatomy of a Bunion
Here are some terms that a doctor may use when discussing these bony protrusions with you:
- First Metatarsal Bone: This is a joint of the big toe that sticks out and forms the bump you can see.
- Hallux Valgus: This is the Latin name for a bunion. Hallux means “big toe,” and valgus means “turned away from the middle of the body.”
- Metatarsalgia: This is a complication of bunions that causes pain and swelling in the ball of the foot.
Surgical Treatments for Hallux Valgus
If malalignment has become so uncomfortable that you have difficulty walking and nonsurgical treatments are no longer bringing you relief, you may need bunion surgery to correct the deformity. There are different types of bunion surgeries a doctor can perform, depending on the patient’s specific needs, and most are done on an outpatient basis, which means there is no hospital stay required. Surgical procedures might focus on straightening the big toe, removing swollen tissue, or realigning bone, ligament, tendons, and nerves. Here are some common surgical procedures:
- Arthrodesis: This procedure replaces the damaged joint in the big toe with screws or metal plates.
- Exostectomy: Also sometimes called a bunionectomy, this procedure is a bunion removal without realigning the joint.
- Osteotomy: This is a procedure performed to realign the big toe joint.
Non-weight-bearing foot exercises and physical therapy are often required after bunion surgery.
Bunions can sometimes be treated or cared for using nonsurgical methods at home; however, it is important to be diagnosed by a doctor first to ensure your bunion issue does not require medical treatment. Examples of self-care you can perform at home include:
- Avoiding Tight Shoes: Avoid ill-fitting, narrow-toed, or tight-fitting shoes. If you have bunions—or want to avoid them in the future—choose well-fitting, low-heeled styles versus those that are high-heeled.
- Taking Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce bunion pain and swelling. Ice packs placed on the deformity can also be helpful.
- Using Bunion Pads: These are small cushions you can buy over the counter to help protect the painful area. Similar pads are available for other foot problems, like corns and calluses.
- Using Toe Spacers and Bunion Splints: These devices can help relieve tension and align the toe joint. Some toe spacers are gel-filled, which may offer even greater comfort.
- Wearing Orthotics: Custom-made shoe inserts, also called orthotics, are another common bunion treatment.
Keeping You in Motion at Lakeshore Bone & Joint Institute
Our fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon, Martin H. S. Weisman, M.D., our specialty-trained foot specialist, Paul J. Gruszka, M.D., and our specialty-trained podiatrists, Rachel L. Stern, D.P.M., Brian T. Damitz, D.P.M., Aaron K. Ruter, D.P.M., and Hassan Usmani, D.P.M., can diagnose and treat your bunion. Our foot specialists also provide any follow-up care you may need to maintain your foot health. While it may be possible to use nonsurgical treatments for your condition, if surgery is required, our doctors can expertly perform the procedure that is required.
To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced specialists, please call (219) 921-1444 or request an appointment online.