Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Recovery
A bunion is a bony lump caused at the joint located at the base of the big toe. It is mainly caused by wearing narrow or tight shoes too often. It can also be sometime inherited as a structural defect in the foot. It can cause serious pain and discomfort and needs to be treated sooner rather than later. It is most common among women and may or may not cause any symptoms. The main sign of a bunion is the big toe of the affected foot pointing towards the other toes of the same foot instead of pointing straight.
Bunions – An Overview
A bunion is a progressive deformity of the metatarsophalangeal joint in the foot. This joint connects your big toe to your foot. This joint helps in distributing your body weight equally on all parts of the foot while you are standing, running or walking. A bunion is the result of when the bones of the foot are pushed into a shape that is not natural. The base of the big toe protrudes outwards, and the big toe points towards the other toes. This condition is known as the hallux valgus deformity. If there is excess pressure exerted on the joint, it can lead to the enlargement of the inside of the foot. It can also affect the outside of the foot as well.
Small bunions usually go unnoticed as they are not painful. However, the bunions that result in pain are accompanied with other symptoms and problems such as the swelling of the foot’s soft tissues along with tenderness, pain, redness and swelling in the affected area. The pain is often relieved after resting, however, it can lead to chronic pain in the big foot if it develops into arthritis.
Causes of Bunions
While the exact cause of bunions is unknown, it tends to run in families. Bunions can get worse if you wear badly fitted or too tight shoes. It is also found to be common among the people who have unusually flexible joints. Therefore, bunions also sometimes occur among children. Certain health conditions, such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis may also be responsible for bunions.
Bunions may also be caused by excess weight gain and the activity level of an individual. Some less common causes of bunions include limb length discrepancies, neuromuscular disorders, trauma injuries such as nerve injuries, fractures and sprains. It is found to occur ten times more in women as a result of wearing pointy, tight fitting, high heeled and narrow shoes over a period of time. Shoe gear does not directly lead to bunions, but can aggravate the situation and make the bunions more swollen and painful. Putting repetitive stress to the foot can also increase the risk of bunions.
Signs and Symptoms of Bunions
Here are the common symptoms of bunions:
- The big toe of the affected foot points inwards towards the other toes rather than pointing straight
- A prominent bump visible on the big toe joint or the inside of the MTP joint
- Pain and swelling near the big toe
- Pain when the affected foot is used while walking, running or standing
- Thickness of skin and redness on the inside of the big toe
- Pain in the big toe and the surrounding area when wearing a shoe of any kind
- Change in the shape of the foot making it difficult for the shoes to fit
- Sore and tender skin near the big toe
If left untreated, these symptoms can sometimes become worse. It is, therefore, recommended to see a physician sooner rather than later when you notice these symptoms. The doctor will look at the symptoms and will examine your foot.
Your physician will examine your foot for the above-mentioned symptoms for bunions. During the examination, the doctor will assess the foot function, the anatomy of the foot, and the joint function. The integrity of the joints is best assessed using an X-Ray. It also gives a clear picture of the underlying problems in the foot such as gout and arthritis. The alignment of the toes can also be clearly seen using an X-Ray.
Bunions can be treated surgically or non-surgically based on the severity of the condition.
Here are some non-surgical methods that are effective in treating bunions:
Changing Your Footwear: Changing the type of shoes you wear can provide a lot of relief from bunion pain. It is important to wear shoes that provide your foot with ample amount of space to move. This will help reduce discomfort from bunions. With ample space, there will be adequate space for all the toes, and it will prevent the big toe from being overcrowded. Here are some tips for choosing a pair of shoes that best fits.
- Don’t judge the shoe by its size number but by how it fits in your foot. It is because different brands have different shoe sizes.
- It is important to wear shoes that match the shape of your feet
- The size of your feet change as you grow older, therefore, measure your feet size regularly.
- Stand while you are in the shoe fitting process
- Extend all your toes when wearing the shoes and then see if there is ample space for the big toe or not
- Walk in the shoes before buying them to make sure they are the right size and are comfortable
You can also wear bunion pads to relieve pain caused by the bunions and prevent any further deformity. If there is still discomfort wearing the shoes, you can consider visiting an orthopedist who will provide you with custom-made shoes to reduce pressure on the bunions.
Anti-Inflammatory Medications: You can consider using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and reduce swelling
Cold/Hot Bunion Therapy: Temporary relief from pain can be provided by alternating applying heat and ice to the bunions. It also helps reduce swelling from the joints.
Castor Oil: Also known as analgesic and anti-inflammatory, castor oil can be used to relieve pain and discomfort caused by a bunion. Massage the affected area with castor oil and wrap it with a warm bandage.
Cortisone Injections: Cortisone is a strong steroid used for reducing inflammation. It can help relieve pain caused by bunions.
Acupuncture: Pain caused by bunions is also found to be alleviated by acupuncture.
Bunions might not always be uncomfortable and painful, but they are permanent and can only be removed through surgery. Surgery can help in realigning the joint, correcting the deformity and reliving pain caused by bunions.
The surgical procedure carried out on bunions is called bunionectomy. The surgical procedure involves removing the bony growth on the big toe and realignment of the tendons and ligaments to make the foot appear normal.
Another surgical treatment done on bunions is osteotomy which is a more invasive surgery and involves cutting and realigning bones and ligaments causing the bunions. This procedure involves using pins and screws to realign the deformities of the foot.
Surgical procedures on bunions take about an hour, depending on the complexity of the situation and are done on an outpatient basis. The surgical procedure is followed by a recovery phase.
The speed and efficiency of recovery is based on how well the instructions of the doctor are followed by the patient. It can take months for the healing to occur properly depending on the severity of the situation. Special shoes, splints or a walking cast are worn post-surgery. You may be able to wear normal shoes within a month of the surgery, but it varies with cases. The foot must be covered while bathing to keep the stitches dry.
The surgeon will ask you not to put any weight on the foot post-surgery. You will be able to put weight on the foot again in some weeks, but doing it too early can cause a disruption in the realignment of the foot and can worsen the situation which will result in more surgeries. To keep weight off your recently operated foot, you can use devices that can bear your weight while you walk such as crutches, knee scooters and walkers.
This is one the most convenient and comfortable ways of resting your limb on the flat padded surface, which keeps weight off it and carry on with the daily activities of life. These require lesser upper body strength and do not cause any pain in the arms and hands. You will also not be required to use any extra effort to move yourself as there are wheels attached to the bottom. Knee scooters make your recovery speedy and easy as it keeps the operated foot non-weight bearing while you can do all the tasks you want as well.
Bunions cause pain and discomfort. However, with the surgical and non-surgical treatment options available, you can get the issue addressed and get back to normal life again. The use of non-weight bearing mobility devices like knee scooter and knee walkers by KneeRover, you can improve your speed of recovery.
This is for informational purposes only, please remember to consult your doctor.