One of the more common conditions treated by podiatric surgeons is the painful bunion. Patients with this condition will usually complain of pain when wearing certain shoes, especially snug fitting dress shoes, or with physical activity, such as walking or running. Bunions are most commonly treated by conservative means. This may involve shoe gear modification, padding and orthoses. When this fails to provide adequate relief, surgery is often recommended. There are several surgical procedures to correct bunions. Selection of the most appropriate procedure for each patient requires knowledge of the level of deformity, review of the x-rays and an open discussion of the goals of the surgical procedure. Almost all surgical procedures require cutting and repositioning the first metatarsal. In the case of mild to moderate bunion deformities the bone cut is most often performed at the neck of the metatarsal (near the joint).
No one single cause has been proven. There are a number of causes, and though shoes can exacerbate the problem, bunions do occur in societies that don?t wear them. We walk on the same type of ground all the time, whereas the human foot was actually designed to adapt to varying terrains. In a sense, a bunion is a type of repetitive strain injury. And like repetitive strain injury, some people are more prone to it than others. One theory, though it remains unproven, is that bunions are caused by one or both of the following. Because the foot wasn?t designed to constantly walk on a level surface, the ball of the big toe is slightly lower than the ball of the rest of your foot. When your foot meets the ground, the ball of the big toe is pushed up, and the big toe joint can?t bend as well as it was designed to. In order for the big toe joint to bend fully as you walk, your foot rolls slightly over to the side (this is also why people with hallux valgus often get hard skin). Also, if your midtarsal joint tends to move from side to side more than it does up and down, the arch in your foot collapses as your foot rolls in. This also makes you more prone to developing bunions. Such problems can be exacerbated by tight footwear. Slip-on shoes can make matters worse. Because they have to be tighter to stay on your feet, you automatically have less room for your toes. And with nothing to hold your foot in place, your toes often slide to the end where they?re exposed to lots of pressure. Likewise, high heels throw more weight onto the ball of the foot, putting your toes under further pressure. If you haven?t got a bunion by adulthood and you later develop one, there could be some underlying arthritis.
Bunions or hallux valgus tend to give pain predominantly from the metatarsal head on the inner border of the foot. The bunion tends to be painful mainly when in enclosed shoes and so is often more symptomatic in winter. As the front part of the foot splays and the great toe moves across towards the 2nd toe a bunion can also produce pain from the 2nd toe itself. The pain which a bunion produces on the 2nd toe is either due to direct rubbing between the great toe and the 2nd toe, a hammer toe type deformity produced due to crowding of the 2nd toe by the bunion and the 3rd toe.The hammer toe will either be painful from its top aspect where it rubs directly on shoe wear or its under surface in the area of the 2nd metatarsal head. This is made prominent and pushed to the sole of the foot by the 2nd toe rising upwards and driving the metatarsal head downwards.
Bunions are readily apparent, you can see the prominence at the base of the big toe or side of the foot. However, to fully evaluate your condition, the Podiatrist may arrange for x-rays to be taken to determine the degree of the deformity and assess the changes that have occurred. Because bunions are progressive, they don’t go away, and will usually get worse over time. But not all cases are alike, some bunions progress more rapidly than others. There is no clear-cut way to predict how fast a bunion will get worse. The severity of the bunion and the symptoms you have will help determine what treatment is recommended for you.
Non Surgical Treatment
When the deformity is mild, treatment is usually not necessary. However, changing shoes to ones that have little or no heel, and are wider in the toe area (toe box) will be more comfortable and may help to prevent worsening of the bunion deformity. If the bunion starts to become painful, other measures may help. Bunions can cause pain in several different areas. The medial eminence may be painful, the entire first toe joint may hurt, or there may be pain underneath some or all of the forefoot (the ball of the foot). Pain over the medial eminence is the most common problem that affects bunion patients. A ?toe spacer? can be placed between the first and second toes and can provide some pain relief as it straightens out the bunion slightly. Pads placed over the medial eminence itself are hard to keep in place and rarely help to relieve pain. Pain underneath the first toe or lesser toes can be relieved by pads placed in the shoes in precise areas. The pads help to take pressure off the prominent areas on the bottom of the foot. Generalized measures to relieve bunion pain, such as physical therapy or foot stretching exercises, have not been shown to be helpful. Orthotics are often prescribed, but are also rarely helpful in relieving pain over the bunion, but may help with pain felt under the ball of the foot.
Surgery can be a very successful treatment for bunions and could be considered if you are having pain that is affecting your function on a regular basis, for instance, pain during sports or wearing work shoes. It is important, however, that you are seen by a consultant orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon who has undergone specialist training with a foot and ankle fellowship. There are many different surgical techniques and it is important that your surgeon is expert in several of these so that you have the one that is best for your unique deformity. Bunion removal is usually done under general anesthesia. This means you will be asleep throughout the procedure. The operation can be performed as a day-case, but an overnight stay in hospital is sometimes required. Your surgeon will explain the benefits and risks of having bunion surgery, and will also discuss the alternatives treatments.
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