When the big toe is misaligned, it creates an unnatural bump on the inside of the forefoot (see image below). In addition to being unsightly, the lump or bunion can cause pain and make buying shoes difficult. Some people are born predisposed to bunions. But most people acquire them over time from ill-fitting footwear that squeezes the big toe inward toward the other toes. About four out of five bunion pain patients are female, a near perfect fit for the bad shoe theory. The good news, Bunions can be corrected, often with better-fitting shoes and custom orthotics. There are also some cases that cause severe bunion pain and do not respond to conservative treatment. For those patients, bunion surgery called bunionectomy may be necessary.
It is thought that the primary cause of bunions is a mechanical instability in the big toe joint. There are a number of different reasons as to why this may happen. Bunions tend to run in families so a person with a family history of bunions has an increased risk of developing them. Factors that are known to increase the risk of bunions include wearing improperly fitting shoes (particularly narrow and/or high-heeled shoes). Certain arthritic conditions and ligament disorders. Age (the incidence of bunions increases with age). Being flatfooted with feet that roll inwards (over pronation). Past injury (trauma) to the foot. Nerve conditions affecting the foot. Bunions most commonly affect women (approximately 90% of cases) and are less common in people who do not regularly wear shoes.
The signs and symptoms of a bunion include a bulging bump on the outside of the base of your big toe, swelling, redness or soreness around your big toe joint, Thickening of the skin at the base of your big toe, Corns or calluses, these often develop where the first and second toes overlap, persistent or intermittent pain, restricted movement of your big toe. Although bunions often require no medical treatment, see your doctor or a doctor who specializes in treating foot disorders (podiatrist or orthopedic foot specialist) if you have persistent big toe or foot pain, a visible bump on your big toe joint, decreased movement of your big toe or foot, difficulty finding shoes that fit properly because of a bunion.
Your doctor will ask questions about your past health and carefully examine your toe and joint. Some of the questions might be: When did the bunions start? What activities or shoes make your bunions worse? Do any other joints hurt? The doctor will examine your toe and joint and check their range of motion. This is done while you are sitting and while you are standing so that the doctor can see the toe and joint at rest and while bearing weight. X-rays are often used to check for bone problems or to rule out other causes of pain and swelling. Other tests, such as blood tests or arthrocentesis (removal of fluid from a joint for testing), are sometimes done to check for other problems that can cause joint pain and swelling. These problems might include gout , rheumatoid arthritis , or joint infection.
Non Surgical Treatment
Bunion pain can be successfully managed in the vast majority of cases by switching to shoes that fit properly and don't compress the toes. Your orthopaedic surgeon can give you more information about proper shoe fit and the types of shoes that would be best for you. Follow these general points of shoe fit. Do not select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe. Sizes vary among shoe brands and styles. Judge the shoe by how it fits on your foot. Select a shoe that conforms as nearly as possible to the shape of your foot. Have your feet measured regularly. The size of your feet change as you grow older. Have both feet measured. Most people have one foot larger than the other. Fit to the largest foot. Fit at the end of the day when your feet are the largest. Stand during the fitting process and check that there is adequate space (3/8" to 1/2") for your longest toe at the end of each shoe. Make sure the ball of your foot fits well into the widest part (ball pocket) of the shoe. Do not purchase shoes that feel too tight, expecting them to "stretch" to fit. Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slippage. Walk in the shoe to make sure it fits and feels right. (Fashionable shoes can be comfortable.) Some shoes can be modified by stretching the areas that put pressure on your toes. Splints to reposition the big toe and orthotics (special shoe inserts shaped to your feet) also may relieve pain. For bunions caused by arthritis, medications can be prescribed to reduce pain and swelling.
For those whose bunions cause persisting pain, a surgical operation is considered for correction of the bunion. The surgical operation to correct a bunion is referred to as a bunionectomy. Surgical procedures can correct deformity and relieve pain, leading to improved foot function. These procedures typically involve removing bony growth of the bunion while realigning the big toe joint. Surgery is often, but not always, successful; failure to relieve pain can result from the big toe moving back to its previous deviated position even after surgery. However, proper footwear and orthotics can reduce the chances of surgical failure.
If these exercises cause pain, don't overdo them. Go as far as you can without causing pain that persists. This first exercise should not cause pain, but is great for stimulating blood and lymphatic circulation. Do it as often as you can every day. Only do this exercise after confirming it is OK with your doctor. Lie on your back and lift up your legs above you. Wiggle your toes and feet. Eventually you may be able to rapidly shake your feet for a minute at a time. Use your fingers to pull your big toe into proper alignment. Stretch your big toe and the rest of your toes. Curl them under for 10 seconds, then relax and let them point straight ahead for 10 seconds. Repeat several times. Do this at least once a day, and preferably several times. Flex your toes by pressing them against the floor or a wall until they are bent back. Hold them for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat several times. Grip with your toes. Practice picking up an article of clothing with your toes, dropping it, and then picking it up again. Warm water. Soak your feet for 20 minutes in a bowl of warm water. Try doing the foot exercises while soaking, and also relax and rest your feet. Epsom salts. Add it to your warm foot bath soak.